England have two days to recover from a shock defeat, and are confident they will in time for the first Test against New Zealand.
Alastair Cook’s tourists travel to Dunedin today, anxious to get a three-wicket reverse out of their system and determined to accentuate positive aspects and learn from the defeat at the Queenstown Event Centre ground.
They can put the batting of Ian Bell and perhaps the bowling of Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes against a New Zealand XI, who chased 334 to win thanks to BJ Watling’s second half-century of this warm-up match, as positives.
The lessons are obvious – that they will need more consistent runs from their top six to win the three-Test series and that, on current form, it will have to be Woakes rather than an off-colour Graham Onions who is the back-up seamer if required over the next three weeks.
Watling (89no), New Zealand’s Test wicketkeeper, got the second string home with eight balls to spare after England had declared overnight.
The initial task for Cook and coach Andy Flower will be to ensure England do not fret over their first defeat in a first-class tour match for more than seven years.
Woakes, for one, does not think that will happen.
“I don’t think they’re too low,” he said of his team-mates. Obviously, we want to win every game we go into. It’s not ideal losing a warm-up game, or a full international, but we feel there are positives.”
On the other side of the equation, Woakes accepted that England were not always at their best.
“Probably not quite enough runs in our second innings was where we lost the game,” he said. “If we could have put on another 50 runs, that would have been very handy. It’s not just the top order. All the way down, we need to chip in when possible – and we probably didn’t do that enough.”
England knew they were giving their hosts a chance by declaring this morning on 256 for nine.
“We knew 330 was probably gettable,” added Woakes.
“It was a good wicket, not really doing a great deal. When we got five wickets, we felt like we probably were on top but knew the next two were crucial.”
Despite their disappointment, England were encouraged to have had such useful preparation.
“It’s always good to have a competitive game before a Test series,” Woakes added. “It’s going to be a hard three games we play here. We know New Zealand are a very good team, particularly in their own conditions.
“So we’ve got to be on our game, and no doubt we will be. We’ll work on a few things leading up to the Test match, and hope we are ready come Wednesday and on song.”
Woakes will make his debut next week only if an injury befalls one of England’s three established seamers, or in the unlikely event the tourists decide they do not need Graeme Swann’s frontline spin. But he believes he has done his case no harm, especially with the ball.
“I felt like I got it right second innings,” he said. “Maybe I was a little bit rusty in the longer format in the first innings, coming from one-day cricket and hitting different lengths.
“I felt the second innings went well, and it would have been nice to pick up a couple (more) wickets and also score a few more runs.
“But generally, I’m pretty pleased.”
Even happier was Kiwi seamer Neil Wagner, added to the Test squad yesterday and able to celebrate by hitting the winning runs in an unbroken stand alongside Watling.
“It was a very special day,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been working hard for, then to finish the game off like we did and get the win was like a cherry on the top. It does give us heaps of confidence going into the Test series, knowing what we are capable of.”
Wagner is heartened too by a lack of runs for some of England’s specialist batsmen, notably Kevin Pietersen.
He said: “It was a good thing that the top order – apart from Belly, who played exceptionally – hasn’t had a long hit out there.”
1st Test: Dunedin, 5-9 March
2nd Test: Wellington, 13-17 March
3rd Test: Auckland 21-25 March