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May 28, 2013
New Zealand's need to regroup after their Test defeat against England before the Champions Trophy has been made doubly difficult by the possibility that they will lose Trent Boult for the tournament because of injury.
Boult has carried the fight for New Zealand with 19 wickets at 25.47 in five Tests, home and away, against England, but his side strain is not responding to treatment and he will have a scan in London on Wednesday to assess the damage.
"He's not looking great," New Zealand's captain, Brendon McCullum, lamented. "He is still not moving that freely which is a shame because he's been a revelation for us this season."
Until a fateful Sunday at Lord's, New Zealand had pressed England all the way, but their capitulation for 68 in only 22.3 overs against Stuart Broad and James Anderson was an experience from which they never recovered.
"Right up until that point our self-belief was very high and that ripped our hearts out and just started to create some self-doubt among us, which is a horrible thing in this game," McCullum said. "That's what unfolded in this Test. We still had periods where we dominated but they didn't last long enough and the periods of England dominating seemed to last a lot longer.
"We saw in this Test match England flexing their muscles and us not being able to respond. It's incredibly disappointing. If you look back on the last five Test matches we've played some good cricket and taken some strides forward but it's fair to say this one was a step backwards."
McCullum has seen enough to favour England in the Ashes later this summer. "England are red-hot favourites at home, their ability to swing the Dukes ball is huge," he said. "Any team that plays at home is familiar with the surroundings."
There will be no overreaction to New Zealand's batting failures if McCullum gets his way. He insisted that he retained faith in the potential of the group that, until the past ten days, had begun to promise a brighter Test future.
"If you fast forward 18 months, we've got the makings of a very good cricket team," he said. "I'm a big fan of protecting the people who have performed for a period of time and that's what we've seen from this group of players. We've got the right mix and the right balance in this group and we need to keep improving as a team and smooth out some of our rough edges."
He dismissed suggestions that New Zealand, six down overnight, were caught on the hop when they did not bother with morning nets before the Test resumed under sullen Leeds skies. The forecast had left Leeds on the edge of a bank of heavy rain but it only suffered light drizzle and a delayed start and a couple of interruptions were not enough to halt England's charge to victory.
McCullum, one of the not-out batsmen overnight, fell early to a superb return catch by Stuart Broad, who dismissed him in all four innings in the series. After that, Tim Southee and Doug Bracewell chose to counterattack - Southee seems to know no other way - and then Neil Wagner and Boult sought to block. As rain was a constant threat, it seemed an idiosyncratic approach towards trying to save a Test.
New Zealand's emphasis now turns to the Champions Trophy. They have eight squad changes but the first player McCullum needs to consider when it comes to reintegration is himself. Having stepped in as wicketkeeper because of an injury to BJ Watling, he now has to decide whether to continue in the role or hand over the gloves to Luke Ronchi.
"I've always said I'd never have any regrets through my career and that doesn't change," he said. "Obviously I wasn't as fluent as I would like to be, like when I was 21, and I wasn't able to contribute with the bat as much as I wanted, but it was a decision we made and I'll stand by it. It didn't affect my batting, I'd love to say it was an excuse for why I didn't get runs but I can't claim that.
"The keeping role is something we need to talk about in the next 24 hours before we start to nail down the one-day team. It's definitely up for discussion. Luke is definitely going to play as an opener. We need to work out what's comfortable for both of us and the team."
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala