After some last-day heroics from Matt Prior, about whom we’ve already waxed lyrical on these pages, the England cricket team managed to draw their three-Test series with New Zealand, 0-0. It wasn’t meant to be this way: England are currently ranked second in Test rankings, and the Kiwis are a lowly eighth. England was meant to clean up, 3–o. As it turned out, England were saved by the weather in the first match, thwarted by it in the second, and had to resort to classic rearguard defensiveness to avoid being embarrassed in the third. Although the England camp denies it, complacency was clearly an issue for the English: they underestimated a hard-working and talented New Zealand side, who were being led by the pugnacious and attacking captaincy of Brendon McCullum, who out-thought and out-strategized his still-learning opposite number, Alastair Cook.
England now return home to play two Test matches against New Zealand before embarking on their defense of the Ashes against Australia later in the summer. It is by no means sure that England will find it any easier beating New Zealand in England than they did in the Antipodes, since the weather conditions are likely to be the same. If the English don’t put up more of a fight, then they’ll be in iffy form for the Ashes.
On the other hand, their opponents couldn’t be in more disarray if they tried. Having been beaten comprehensively in India by India (4–0)—after England beat India (2–1), also in India—Australian morale is probably at its lowest ebb in thirty years. Captain courageous Michael Clarke is injured, and the bowling unit (while full of talent) remains inconsistent, except for the ever-reliable Peter Siddle. The bowlers are miles ahead of the batsmen, however, who failed to post competitive totals against Indian spinners, and won’t be relishing the prospect of facing a rejuvenated Graeme Swann, who missed the New Zealand tour with an elbow injury.
Although the Ashes has long since forfeited its place as the clash of the titans in cricketing mythology, it nonetheless promises to be a very interesting contest—not least because both teams are off their game and vulnerable. South Africa, whose depth and strength continue to impress, must be enjoying the frailties of their nearest competitors, as they lengthen the distance in the ICC Test rankings between their side and the rest of the cricketing world.