England sail to victory in second New Zealand test

Young batsman Joe Root's 243 runs made him Player of the Series. Picture: AFP
Young batsman Joe Root's 243 runs made him Player of the Series. Picture: AFP
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Alastair Cook brushed aside criticism of England’s tactics during the second Investec Test against New Zealand, vindicated by a 247-run victory at Headingley.

A variety of decisions – from not enforcing the follow-on, to taking time out of the game by setting an unfeasibly large winning target of 468 – caused debate overnight due to the possibility of rain on the final day.

As it was there were two long delays that occupied almost three hours of playing time, but England still managed to bowl out the tourists for 220, collecting the final four wickets in 21.5 overs yesterday.

Former England captain Michael Vaughan was one notable critic of England’s strategy, calling it “a bit safe and a bit fearful” but he was far from alone.

But having watched his bowlers do the business, Cook felt relaxed in defence of his captaincy.

“I think the result vindicates the decisions. There is no doubt about that at all,” he said. “It is very easy when you are sitting behind the rope to say ‘I would have pulled out with 350 on the board’. It is easy to say when you are not making the decision and you are not responsible for it.

“You are judged as a captain on results. In this game we have won by 250 runs.

“You woke up this morning and first thing you do is look out the window. I wouldn’t say it was a sleepless night but we were praying for an opportunity to get enough time to go out there and win the game. To win by nearly 250 runs is a good win and in just effectively over three days of cricket.

“We were 1-0 up in the series and we did not want to give them a sniff in the series because wins don’t come round very easily or very often.”

While Cook could not have made his position any more plain, he accepts that there will be scrutiny of his every act having taken over as skipper from Andrew Strauss last year.

“The beauty about sport and cricket, especially when there are big decisions to be made, is that there is always the other argument. It is very easy to argue the point. This will not be a one-off thing.

“I imagine throughout my reign – or whoever is captain – there will be a lot of people saying they would have done this or that and that is perfectly acceptable.”

Aside from the tactical debates prompted by the weather, England enjoyed a prosperous time in Leeds. Joe Root scored a maiden Test century at his home ground, Cook became the first England batsman in history to score 25 tons and there were career-best match figures of ten for 132 for Graeme Swann. The notable exception was Nick Compton, who fell for seven and one and looked entirely bereft of confidence.

He now faces a nervous wait to see if he will part of England’s Ashes campaign in July, but there were encouraging words from his captain.

Should Kevin Pietersen return to fitness on schedule, England have the option to use Root as an opener and retain Jonny Bairstow instead of Compton, but Cook sees that as a gamble. “It is an important position in a very big series. You are in the firing line straight away and you want to set a good tone at the top of the order so, yes, it is a risk,” he said.

“There are going to be some tough meetings ahead. First and foremost it was great to see Kev batting again yesterday [in the nets] and hopefully he keeps progressing well and comes back on the field.”