Cricket Expert & Columnist
A young champion
Mike Atherton reflects on England's tour of New Zealand and the discovery of a new talent, at last.
Last Updated: 26/03/08 2:20pm
So after all has been said and done on this tour, New Zealand have taken the one-day series and England the Tests.
Most people think New Zealand are stronger than England in the one-day game and I, like many, expected England to beat their hosts in the Test matches. Everyone was proven correct on all counts.
But I thought it would be a more clear-cut victory in the Tests than it turned out to be, so in one sense it has been a little disappointing for England, but it is a win - and a win away from home.
There was a great danger after losing the first Test that it could have all gone downhill from there. When you lose the first game of a series the pressure can be on your back and the captain and coach are under pressure, but England did bounce back.
But I would stress that this is a pretty moderate New Zealand side and England should always have beaten them and by a bigger margin.
The debate about why England started the series so slowly has been running since the defeat in Hamilton and one of the main arguments presented is that England hadn't played enough first class cricket before the first morning's play.
It is an old argument, one we have heard on the last few tours, and my view is that it is one we need to get beyond because modern day tours are changing.
Teams do not have the same amount of preparation time as previously and therefore it is up to the players to get themselves right and ready for the first game.
Steve Harmison is a slightly different case because he arrived late due to the birth of his child. But he has retired from one-day cricket and that probably doesn't help his case for Test selection, especially when the one-day games come first as they did in New Zealand.
The onus is both on the players and the ECB, who have the players centrally contracted, to get everyone right and ready when the umpire calls 'play' on the first morning.
It was clear that Harmison, in particular, was short of the performance and confidence required in Hamilton and he rightly got dropped.
I thought it was harsh to drop Matthew Hoggard as well though and I would have kept faith in him. He has been England's top and most consistent bowler for a good while and to drop him for one bad game was harsh. But England got it right in Wellington, winning the Test match and I don't think it will be the end of Hoggard's Test career by a long stretch.
Two of the great positives for England in New Zealand have been the arrival of Stuart Broad as a genuine Test prospect and the completion of Ryan Sidebottom's journey to Test match mainstay.
I called for Broad's inclusion at the World Cup because I hadn't been impressed with England's performance in winning the CB Series in Australia at the start of 2007. That was a bit of a false dawn and I would have liked to have seen him out in the West Indies, but it wasn't to be.
For me Broad is an exceptional cricketer, the best young bowler that I have seen emerge for England since Darren Gough 14 years ago. Given a fair wind, some good luck, a lack of injuries and good people around him to keep him honest I think he will be a champion for England.
Sidebottom is a rock solid performer and is the kind of bowler that the captain loves to be able to throw a ball to. He will bowl well with a new, swinging ball but he will also keep running in all day for you.
England now have two bowlers there that they can absolutely rely on in Broad and Sidebottom, so now the job is to find the third who will make up the attack with Monty Panesar.
Monty finished the tour on a high with six wickets and England will continue to keep faith in him. He is what he is: a good, honest finger-spinner.
He is never going to be a Shane Warne or a Muttiah Muralitharan and we don't want to hold our hopes out for that. But he is a good finger spinner, probably the best we have had since Derek Underwood, and given the right conditions - a wearing pitch and runs on the board - as he had in Napier, he will play his part for England.
Michael Vaughan knows what he will get from Monty which is, for the first three days, a solid bowler who can give you control, and then when the pitch might have deteriorated after four days, he could be a match-winner.
There will be other questions asked about the make-up of England's top six for the return series back in England against New Zealand which starts in May, but I think there will be no changes and that is just about right.
Centuries for Ian Bell and Andrew Strauss in England's final innings will have eased any worries on their part and ensured their participation at Lord's.
I am not entirely convinced that England have got the order right as Strauss is not a number three, he is a natural opening batsman. Michael Vaughan should bat three and the rest can stay as they are - they have all just done enough.
Just done enough... I thought England would win with more ease but they just did enough to win 2-1. Better will be expected at home in May.