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May 1, 2013
New Zealand slipped into London almost unnoticed on Tuesday, minus their captain Brendon McCullum and senior batsman Ross Taylor who are at the IPL, but are determined to leave their mark on an English season where the main attraction is their trans-Tasman rivals.
"We don't really have anything to do with the Ashes," Kane Williamson, the captain in McCullum's absence, said. It helps, no end, that the series played during March between these two teams was very competitive. Talk about flat pitches killing the game was off the mark - weather was the bigger factor in the first two Tests - and New Zealand came within one wicket of a famous victory in Auckland. That is enough for this return contest to be given the respect it deserves.
Mike Hesson, the New Zealand coach, hopes his team can provide more than a footnote to the summer. "I can guarantee from our perspective these two Tests are massive for us. We are making progress as a side and we certainly wouldn't like to be the entrée for the main course later on."
He was even keen to see the benefits in having two key players arrive late for the tour. McCullum and Taylor are due on May 7 or 8, ahead of the second warm-up match against England Lions at Grace Road. McCullum will still have a role to play in the early days of tour, albeit from thousands of miles away, and is in regular contact with Hesson.
"I'm actually quite happy with it because with a squad of 15 it's quite hard to get everyone a game," he said. "Those guys, although they haven't been playing a lot, they have been training a lot. To get our whole squad involved in those two warm-up games is critical for us. In previous tours we haven't even had any warm-up matches so two is huge. There will be no complaints from us about being underdone."
It is nothing new for a touring side to arrive in England for the May Tests in dribs and drabs - Sri Lanka and West Indies have faced similar situations in recent years - and is unlikely to be the last time it happens. Perhaps there should be a sense of gratefulness, and relief, that McCullum and Taylor will be here in time for the Test series. They are both fascinating sub-plots to the series; McCullum's leadership was a key part of the contest in New Zealand, while Taylor's return to the set-up has been far from smooth.
The abiding memory of the previous series was the dramatic final day where England survived nine wickets down through defiance from Matt Prior, Ian Bell and Stuart Broad - plus Monty Panesar's desperate dive - and the feeling of a fantastic opportunity missed by New Zealand still lingers.
"I've tried to forget about that game to be honest, especially the end of it," Hesson admitted. "We felt we dominated but that's the game. These two Tests will be tough in very different conditions. We gained a lot of confidence, but it was a series in isolation and we can't get carried away."
After the upturn in their fortunes during March, there are unlikely to be many major selection headaches leading into the Test series. Hesson confirmed that Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton will continue their opening pairing even though Martin Guptill is in the squad again after injury, so the key decision may come down to whether they retain a spinner - Bruce Martin - in their XI or go with four quick bowlers. Doug Bracewell, who missed the home series after injuring his foot on a piece of glass, and Mark Gillespie are the extra pacemen in the squad.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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