England v New Zealand, 1st Test, Lord's May 13, 2008

Martin revels in underdog role

Chris Martin: happy for New Zealand to be written off © Getty Images
To judge by the way the pundits have been talking, England's series against New Zealand is already in the bag. The Kiwis, allegedly, are the weakest touring side ever to have touched down in the country, with the ropiest top-order imaginable and a bowling attack that's hanging by a shoestrong. But they've heard it all before, and according to Chris Martin, the man who'll lead their attack at Lord's on Thursday, such barbs are only going to spur them on.

"Maybe the England team read the papers a bit more," said Martin. "I know there's a lot of media hype to bring the English team up, saying that they should really stamp on us and destroy us. It's probably something they feel if they aren't doing that, because then that hype gets over-extended and they start to feel the pressure. I suppose you guys are doing us a favour in some ways."

There's no question that England are confident ahead of the start of their summer campaign. Kevin Pietersen has already started looking forward to resuming hostilities with his former countrymen, South Africa, while the coach, Peter Moores, gave a brusque affirmative when asked if he expected victory in the three-match series. But Martin has seen enough of England over the past four months to know that nothing is set in stone just yet.

Four years ago, during Martin's maiden series in England, the traffic was largely one-way, as England hurtled to a 3-0 whitewash - a performance that set the standard for their Ashes-winning exploits the following summer. But times have changed and Martin believes that the 2008 vintage is some way below that standard just now. "They are just a steady side and on their day they can be a very good side," he said. "For us, we are in a similar vein. I know over the years New Zealand and England have had some pretty good battles, especially over here, so I'm quite looking forward to it.

"As a bowling outfit, we were very poor in 2004," said Martin, who took six wickets in the first two Tests before pulling a hamstring in his second over at Trent Bridge. "We let ourselves down. There's normally a bowler who can carry a group like that but I don't think we had that last time. So hopefully, throughout this series, we all help each other out and get a little bit more of a pack mentality.

When New Zealand get it right, they can be an impressive outfit, as they demonstrated at Hamilton in March where they derailed England in the first Test. The next two matches, however, got away from them, and two months on, Martin was still rueing the missed opportunity. "We started with an emotionally charged win, and to let it slip in that second game switched the momentum back to England. We regret the way we bowled to a couple of guys on that first day, [Paul] Collingwood and [Tim] Ambrose. We let them get a bit more confidence."

New Zealand's own batting could do with a bit more confidence. They've lost their leading runscorer of all time, Stephen Fleming, and face making two more changes to the top order after axing the underperforming Matthew Bell and Mathew Sinclair. But in Aaron Redmond, who made an impressive if doughty 146 in the England Lions match, they have identified an opener who could provide them with some much-needed ballast.

Redmond's six-and-a-half hour innings reminded Martin of their former opener, Mark Richardson, who famously made 93 and 101 in the last Lord's Test in 2004. "Mark would bat for 130 balls and blunt the attack for a while and be out there being a menace," said Martin. "I think Aaron's pretty much going down that line as well. He just wants to bat time and stay out there. That helps our middle-order, and the runs we've been getting in the warm-up games have been extremely positive."

There is still, however, a question-mark about New Zealand's attitude to Test cricket. Until the England tour in March, they had played four matches in 15 months, and two of those had come against Bangladesh. Furthermore, five of their key players, including the captain, arrived late for this tour after taking part in the Indian Premier League. Though they were only gone a week, the big bucks that their adventure brought them can only have turned heads in the dressing-room.

"It inspires me to get myself over there," said Martin, who was arguably the highest-profile member of the squad not to have been signed up. "As far as a New Zealand player goes, it's an important financial incentive to get yourself over to India. For a young guy coming up and playing cricket in New Zealand, it's a passage you should be following.

"The preference and priority for anyone is playing for their country, but it's a supplement, a superannuation plan," he said. "If you can get your name up in lights and somebody with a wad of rupees is willing to spend money on you to play cricket, it's nothing to turn down really."

Such sentiments are hardly encouraging for those who view Test cricket as the ultimate form of the game, but if the promise of a passage to India is sufficient incentive for New Zealand to raise their game, then maybe Martin is right. This series is not one to be written off just yet.

There will be an in-depth feature with Chris Martin on Cricinfo on Wednesday

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo