Not Losing Sleep

It was rarely easy to see enough of the England-New Zealand series - most of the action took place in the middle of the night here in the UK, and I just can't handle cricket-related sleep deprivation the way I used to - but I saw enough to know that it was an occasionally captivating contest between two relatively mediocre sides. However, the suspicion remains that New Zealand, certainly at Hamilton, played above themselves, while England, at Hamilton and early on in both Wellington and Napier, did just the opposite. Certainly, if England were as good a side as they'd like to think they are (and are probably capable of being) they would have won all three matches without having to lose too much sleep themselves.

In the short term England can congratulate themselves on the way they bowled after the landmark decision to dispense with Hoggard and Harmison was taken. As I've written many times before, Stuart Broad's potential is as outstanding as it is obvious, Sidebottom's resurrection has been remarkable and Monty, despite some shaky days earlier in the winter, still has everything he looked to have in 2006. He needs a bit more - notably in the flight department - but that will come. Anderson, consistent only in his utter inconsistency, remains a problem, and, if anyone's going to allow Hoggard back in it'll be him.

Their batting, despite the multiple late advances in Napier, was often disappointing. Vaughan was poor, Cook underwhelming, Strauss lucky to be there. Pietersen and Bell were largely below their best, although, as his enigmatic career continues to frustate those of us who can't help admiring him, it remains hard to tell what Bell's best really is. The eternally-reassuring Collingwood was often excellent, but he needs to find his way to three figures rather than two. With Broad at eight to extend the tail, he may stand a better chance of doing so in the future.

With Ambrose it's still much too early to tell. He'll start the home series against New Zealand as the man in possession, but let's see where we are when both the Kiwis and the Proteas have come and gone.

For New Zealand, despite the emergence of Taylor and Southee, things look increasingly gloomy. With Fleming's name added to the long list of players they've lost over the last year, their spring trip to these shores is likely to prove a difficult assignment.

These were two sides who were more evenly matched than they ought to have been, and the series was all the better for it. However, if England, with home advantage, don't pull away from New Zealand with ease over here, some serious, and worrying, questions will have to be asked.

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