England in New Zealand talking points: Top-order optimism, Stuart Broad impresses, spin concerns
Joe Root and Rory Burns both hit centuries in second Test
By Ben Kosky
Last Updated: 04/12/19 9:00am
What were the positives from England's series against New Zealand? What were the concerns? And what will they change when they head to South Africa?
England lost the two-Test series 1-0 after being frustrated on the final day in Hamilton and having to settle for a draw. The result continues a poor run of away form for England, who next travel to South Africa for a four-Test series starting on Boxing Day.
We reflect on the defeat to the Black Caps and look at the key performers and the key questions...
Grounds for optimism
The wickets may not have been the most testing for batsmen, yet overall England's top order can feel they made significant strides in New Zealand.
At the end of last summer's Ashes series, perhaps only two of England's top six spots appeared settled beyond doubt - those occupied by Joe Root and Ben Stokes - but that now looks nearer to four or five.
Rory Burns registered his second Test century, supporting the captain in his innings of 226, while Joe Denly's first ton seems just a matter of time - the Kent batsman displayed plenty of grit in his knock of 74 at Mount Maunganui.
Ollie Pope showcased both his strokeplay and ability to dig in when required and, while Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley are yet to shine at this level, further opportunities may come their way.
Rankings don't lie
Losing a series, even one that comprises of only two matches and carries no points towards the World Test Championship, is always a disappointment - but Root's side should not feel overly disheartened.
After all, New Zealand are third in the championship standings and what's more, the ICC player rankings include three of the Black Caps' batsmen - Kane Williamson, Henry Nicholls and Tom Latham - among their top 10.
Throw in an experienced, settled bowling attack where they're unable to find room for Lockie Ferguson, and a spinner, Mitchell Santner, who actually made an impact with ball as well as bat during the first Test.
Suddenly it's clear to see why only one of the previous 12 visiting teams for a Test series - South Africa in 2017 - have returned from New Zealand with defeat avoided. Losing is certainly no disgrace.
Gambling with the gloves
England's decision not to pick a second recognised wicket-keeper always looked risky and so it proved when Jos Buttler pulled out with a back injury on the eve of the Hamilton Test.
Granted, stand-in Pope performed solidly behind the stumps until dropping Kane Williamson on the final day - but it was hardly ideal to have a player with such limited first-class experience as a keeper taking on that role in a Test match.
"I feel for Pope, he hasn't done it for months," said former England captain Nasser Hussain on The Cricket Debate.
"He said he hasn't got a problem with it and has done it since the age of nine, but if there's one thing we are not lacking in this country it's wicket-keeper batsmen. There are a lot who could have been out there and you have named two of them."
This is not a new issue - there are echoes of England's disastrous decision to take Richard Blakey on a tour of India ahead of Jack Russell back in 1992, only for him to end up as Test wicket-keeper after a spate of illness in the camp.
But the importance of covering the keeper's role adequately should not be minimised. Handing the gloves to a batsman may bring you extra runs - yet it can also cost you extra runs if wicket-taking opportunities are missed.
"When they do another Test tour I don't think they will ever get to a point where they don't have a spare, specialist wicket-keeper," said Rob Key on The Cricket Debate. "Not somebody like Pope who has done it in a few first-class games and can be a stand-in. This is the England cricket team, there's no reason why you can't have a second wicket-keeper out there."
Despite being four years James Anderson's junior, Stuart Broad is so closely associated with his long-term fast bowling partner that they are often seen as likely to exit the Test stage around the same time.
However, with Anderson absent and Jofra Archer struggling to replicate the sensational form from his debut series against Australia, Broad underlined why any thoughts of putting him out to grass should be firmly shelved.
He was England's most consistent and effective seamer at Mount Maunganui, even if the wickets column did not reflect that, and then starred with a four-for in New Zealand's first innings at Hamilton.
Broad is 33 - an age that would once have been seen as the twilight of a fast bowler's career - but there is no reason why he should not be spearheading the Test attack for a while yet.
While Broad reiterated his Test class, it was a somewhat underwhelming series for England's quickest bowler. Archer finished with just two wickets, at 100.5 apiece, to his name - although he would have had another had Denly not dropped a sitter on the final day of the second Test.
That meagre return was something of a contrast to Archer's arrival on the Test scene, when he collected 22 wickets in four Tests against the Australians, as well as unwittingly giving his team-mates a brief respite from Steve Smith.
However, it's worth remembering that whereas Broad was on his fourth tour to New Zealand, Archer had no previous experience of the conditions or the Kookaburra ball - a different animal to the Dukes version.
It's vital that the England hierarchy handle the talented 24-year-old wisely, minimising both the hype and the criticism to ensure they get the best out of his undoubted talent.
Turn for the worse
While New Zealand pitches tend not to offer an enormous amount of turn, it was still something of a surprise - and a concern - that England took the field for the second Test with a five-man seam attack.
Having omitted Jack Leach, who was then laid low with gastroenteritis in any case, the selectors also ignored the claims of understudy Matt Parkinson - a reminder that their spin options are generally thin on the ground.
English cricket is not exactly chock-full of match-winning twirlers - probably an indictment of the County Championship schedule, with fixtures squeezed into late spring and early autumn, as much as anything else.
Nevertheless, it's hard not to think that Moeen Ali, dropped from the Test squad during the Ashes series, may be in line for a recall sooner rather than later.
"I would want to see how Moeen Ali is bowling," said Key on The Cricket Debate. "At his best he is a match-winner. He outbowled [Ravichandran] Ashwin in the series at home two years ago. But there isn't a middle ground with Moeen like there is with Leach where he will just do a decent job. If you had both at their best then I would pick Moeen Ali."
Watch the first Test between South Africa and England live on Sky Sports Cricket from 7am on Boxing Day