Worcestershire v New Zealand, Tour match, New Road, 2nd day May 15, 2015

Rutherford resists as tourists tested

Worcestershire 65 for 1 trail New Zealanders 261 for 9 dec (Rutherford 75) by 196 runs
Scorecard

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IPL costing NZ players valuable preparation

From a certain angle, you might convince yourself that things are as they always have been at New Road. The horse chestnut trees still bloom, they still queue for tea in the Ladies' Pavilion and they haven't as much as added a conservatory to the cathedral.

But this is a much-changed game. Whereas on New Zealand's first Test tour of England in 1931, they played 32 first-class matches in all - even as late as 1999, they played 12 - this time, their premier players will go into the first Test having not played a red-ball match for five months.

Instead, Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson will meet up with the New Zealand squad as little as two days before the start of the series against England. After their spells in the IPL, they will go into the first Test reliant upon the practice they have gained from taking some Dukes balls to India to use in net sessions when possible. It is far from ideal preparation.

To underline the new balance of power, Corey Anderson, who has joined up with the squad in Worcester, is awaiting clearance from Mumbai Indians before he can take part in this warm-up game. Not so long ago, it was national boards who granted clearance and domestic teams who waited. But money changes everything and not always for the better.

It is nobody's fault. The players, with a finite career in which to maximise their earnings, are understandably keen to take advantage of the opportunity the IPL provides and argue that the experience improves them as cricketers. New Zealand Cricket cannot compete with the money on offer. The compromise solution is not unreasonable.

None of this means New Zealand will be a pushover in the Test series. There is too much talent, experience and professionalism in this squad to expect that. But it does mean that an England side who, once again, seem to be at the start of a new era, are not likely to come up against a side quite as well-prepared to exploit their weaknesses as might have been the case.

Certainly there was no obvious disparity between the tourists and the county side at New Road on Friday. While the New Zealand seamers possessed more pace, the ability of the Worcestershire attack to harness the conditions exposed some fragility among the New Zealand batting against the moving ball. For a side that is about to face James Anderson on an early season wicket, that must be a concern.

New Zealand's opening combination will come under examination and Tom Latham fell cheaply, pushing at one outside off stump, before a stand of 68 between the two other candidates, Martin Guptill and Hamish Rutherford. Latham's Test average of 40.23 and the fact he has played nine consecutive Tests since debut might make him feel secure of his place - he also made a half-century at the start of the tour in Taunton - but while Rutherford is the other incumbent, Guptill's one-day form has pushed him back into contention.

Rutherford resisted stoutly here, going into lunch unbeaten on 40, and Guptill appeared to have done the hard work before mistiming one that seemed to stop in the pitch and gifting a catch to mid-on. While Rutherford was rarely fluent - he reached his half-century with just his third boundary, an edge through the slip cordon off the deserving Charlie Morris - he generally left with sound judgement and demonstrated the patience required to prosper in such bowler-friendly conditions.

Until he came up against Moeen Ali, anyway. Moeen, knowing he was some way below his best, asked to play in this game and soon drew Rutherford down the pitch with a ball that dipped sharply and spun to beat his outside edge. A little later, he also had Mark Craig beaten in the flight and caught at extra cover.

After a couple of modest bowling performances - in Barbados for England and at Edgbaston for Worcestershire - this was a more encouraging display from Moeen. He still looks short of bowling - one full toss was thrashed for six by Craig - but there were fewer short balls and he also looked in fluent form with the bat in the evening. Perfectly straight drives for four and six were probably the strokes of the day.

The same could not be said of Ross Taylor. After his brief innings was ended by an edge as he reached for a ball well outside off stump, he trudged off to the nets for another long practice session. He has been caught behind in all three of his innings on tour to date and looks less compact than in his prime.

BJ Watling edged a good one that appeared to bounce and take the outside edge, while Luke Ronchi was caught at second slip as he attempted to leave a short. Only a ninth-wicket stand of 70 took New Zealand above 250.

Nobody, surely, would be unwise enough to call New Zealand "mediocre" or suggest that there should be "some enquiries" if they win the series, but with much media focus currently on the fresh bout of chaos and bickering within England cricket, this was a reminder that life for their opposition is also far from perfect.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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