New Zealand arrive as hot property to catch England cold
Sometimes it's easier to let your opponents' deeds form the words. New Zealand are not used to arriving in England to any sort of a fanfare, and the fact that they pitched up at Lord's on Monday without the services of five of their IPL-committed star names, suggests that the welcoming committee should have been more low-key than ever. But the phalanx of TV cameras that greeted Ross Taylor's diplomatic platitudes told another story.
After their extraordinary run to the World Cup final, New Zealand are hot property at the moment, and on the evidence of England's struggles to assert themselves in Barbados this week, they have every chance of catching their hosts cold when the first Test gets underway at Lord's on May 21. Not that you'll catch Taylor tempting fate like that. New Zealand tend to cling to their underdog status like a security blanket, and though plenty of people will doubtless state the quality of his team on his behalf, he's quite happy to play all such enquiries straight back to the bowler, thank you very much.
"Any time you play England in their own conditions it's going to be tough and obviously they'll have even more motivation coming off a loss against West Indies," Taylor said. "We know we'll have to be at our best to compete against them here."
A convenient trip to Disneyland meant that Taylor was spared any close examination of England's struggles in the Caribbean - all the better for offering no comment. But the fairytale journey that he and his team-mates have been on back home means that many of his countryman will never now want for such magic in their lives. Who needs fireworks exploding over Cinderella's castle when you've watched Brendon McCullum and Tim Southee in full cry at the Cake Tin?
"I guess you can take a little bit of confidence from that," Taylor said, a model of understatement. "I'm sure Tim Southee will take a lot of confidence into the first Test, but it is a totally different format and a different England side with players who weren't playing in that game. They are world-class players and will put us under pressure."
Taylor was half-right, or maybe a quarter at best. Southee may have had a white ball in his hands on that never-to-be-forgotten night in Wellington but New Zealand, to all intents and purposes, brought a Test match attitude to their extraordinary and frenzied new-ball assault. The fate of three of the likely Lord's combatants highlights that point. Ian Bell was greeted with three slips to dare him to play his cover-drives - he stayed too leg-side and lost his off stump; Moeen Ali was suckered by Southee's bouncer-yorker one-two; Gary Ballance had four slips and a short cover tracking his every movement, and toe-ended a drive to the latter.
And then, on top of all that, came Brendon McCullum, claymore swinging as he hurtled in from the Highlands to rout the remnants of England's innings with 77 from 25 balls. And if those numbers seemed skewed by the one-sided nature of what had gone before, let no one pretend that this couldn't happen in a Test match.
From Virender Sehwag to Tamim Iqbal, via the Ashes-crushing onslaughts of David Warner last winter, England have encountered plenty of Test openers in recent years who have translated their one-day insouciance to the main stage. It's all part of the evolution of the game - something that England, to judge by their dogma-saturated offerings of the past 18 months, view with the open-mindedness of a Bible-belt creationist.
It's no longer quite so convenient to view the two formats in isolation from one another and if Taylor's relaxation was an indication of the serenity that New Zealand's recent deeds have generated, then England's angst is surely no less indicative.
"We had a great six or seven weeks back home but it's probably time to move on now and get onto a different format," Taylor said. "It was an amazing experience and one that the guys there will never forget. But I think it's good to go to another country. England's always a great place to tour, and we've had some success over here, but it's always tough to play England in their own conditions and we are expecting nothing less." As if to prove the point, over on the Lord's main square, Middlesex were in the process of tumbling to 37 for 7 on an apparently blameless pitch - all the more reason for Taylor to stick to his underdog script.
The New Zealand advance party have two warm-up contests at Taunton and Worcester in which to hone their techniques for the English early season, and Taylor for one was eager to use the time to get a head start.
"It doesn't happen that often, the way that tours are structured these days, but it is totally different with the Duke ball swinging around in the spring. But we've got some youngsters here, soaking up the atmosphere, and it'll be very enjoyable to come here and play."
And then, come May 21, it'll be all about the team that adjusts to the schedule best. Two years ago, New Zealand arrived in the UK with some expectations after holding England to a 0-0 draw on home soil, but that performance came at the very earliest stirrings of their current golden form. This time, their hosts as vulnerable as they can ever have been since the summer of 1999, when Nasser Hussain's men were dumped to the bottom of the Test rankings following a 2-1 home defeat.
Doubtless it would help their cause if their crack team could be assembled sooner rather than later, but Taylor was both phlegmatic about the circumstances and confident that they've got the wherewithal to hit the ground running. After all, he pointed out, New Zealand were comfortable victors in similar circumstances last year, when they arrived in the Caribbean, of all places, to dispatch West Indies by 186 runs in the first Test.
"It's not ideal, but that's the landscape we live in," Taylor said. "We won the first Test in West Indies after the guys came back with a few days to go. They went straight into the team and were very successful."
Andrew Miller is a former editor of the Cricketer. @miller_cricket