England in New Zealand, 2012-13 February 26, 2013

England get back into Test mode


The bike rides around Queenstown's stunning shoreline and the helicopter flights to snow-capped mountains now get put to one side. England's Test squad - virtually at full strength with only the injured Tim Bresnan not part of the 15 - are now all in the same place, on New Zealand's South Island, to prepare for the Test series which starts in Dunedin on March 6.

The Test-only players - Nick Compton, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Graham Onions and Monty Panesar - along with team director Andy Flower arrived in Queenstown last week for a training camp that has not all been about cricket. The players have been posting regular updates on Twitter, marveling at the beauty of the location and the chance to undertake some of the more touristy aspects of the town rather than nets and fitness drills all the time.

However, now joined by the Test names from the one-day squad, who are not going to have the same opportunity for too much downtime - although some of the players were hurling themselves off a suspension bridge on Tuesday in one of Queenstown's adrenalin-filled options - there are four important days ahead to get back into red-ball cricket.

"It's about getting your tempo right, getting back into those routines and hopefully we can do those quickly so we can hit the ground running," Ian Bell said. "We always look to win these warm-up matches as that helps create momentum going into the Tests series."

Bell, at least, showed solid form in the ODIs, batting in a style not far removed from his Test cricket. Compton has not batted in the middle since Nagpur, Prior has only had a brief, unproductive stint at the Big Bash League, while Onions and Panesar (the latter unlikely to play a major part in the series) will have been indoors until arriving here a few days ago. Pietersen played all five of England's ODIs in India but has had the last month off.

"It's more like playing in English conditions so it's quite familiar to us," Bell said. "In India, it was great because the way we had to bat and bowl was different to home. We don't want to go away from what we do well."

And then there is Flower. This is the first time he will have regained the players since his new job-share with Ashley Giles officially began at the start of January. Giles, with two series wins in New Zealand and a creditable showing in India, has started to relax into the role after admitting to initial feelings of uncertainty and a 'what would Andy have done' mindset.

Giles has now nipped over to Sydney to catch the tail-end of the Lions tour - a trip that has had its share of problems, from hammerings on the field and issues off it - to leave Flower to get back hold of his Test team for their first assignment of a double Ashes year. He has been in regular contact with Giles during the limited-overs matches, but just as Giles had to work out how best to fit into his new job, Flower will need to settle back into the day-to-day role again. On Tuesday, he was busy directing England's centre-wicket practice session and looked delighted to be back among the cut and thrust; the Test team is undisputedly Flower's.

Despite an indifferent 2012, until it was rescued by the India victory, the squad is a settled one, barring the occasional new face or change forced by form, injury or reintegration. Compton was given first crack at replacing Andrew Strauss and probably did enough in India to ensure he gets a chance to build on the early promise and graft. But he needs that maiden hundred soon to ward off the management's thoughts of promoting Joe Root to open.

If a harsh call was made to move Root up now, and drop Compton, it would open up a spot for Jonny Bairstow in the middle order. He has had a difficult few months - one innings in Mumbai and family issues forced him to head home; Root and Jos Buttler then emerged to keep him out of the one-day team. But someone who can take 95 off South Africa is not short on character. His time will come again, but probably not on this tour.

Compton, Pietersen and Prior will hope for two innings against the New Zealand XI to get back into the rhythm of batting, but regardless England's top seven for Dunedin is unlikely to alter from those on duty in Nagpur. There is, however, one spot which could be influenced by events in Queenstown - the third quick behind James Anderson and Steven Finn.

Stuart Broad's return from injury in the limited-overs portion of the tour has been a success - if occasionally a touch expensive - but that is no guarantee that he will regain the Test spot he lost after two wicketless Tests in India. Graham Onions is a bowler with all the attributes to be a handful in New Zealand and his natural length is a touch fuller than Broad's, which will be important against batsmen weak outside the off stump.

Onions has played just once - against West Indies at Edgbaston when Broad and Anderson were rested - since being fully returned as a squad member following a serious back injury. Twice England brought in fast-bowling replacements in India: Finn replaced Broad, then Bresnan replaced Finn. All the while, Onions kept his fluorescent top that the reserves now wear on the boundary edge. Off-colour performances in the tour matches, and perhaps a perception that he is not a natural reverse-swing bowler, counted against him India.

He does not have much of a chance to press his case in New Zealand either, and he will have to rely on Flower being unsure of the miles in the legs of either Anderson or Finn to even be assured of a starting place in Queenstown.

For Broad, the significance of the four-day match is coming back for third and fourth spells - if the opposition are good enough to require that - to really test the durability of his heel inside those specially designed boots. Given his diminishing returns with the bat - he has a highest score of 37 in his last 15 innings - that side of his game should not into the reckoning for a decision over the final XI.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on February 27, 2013, 16:19 GMT

    Onions should be straight into that side ahead of Broad. Two spinners are not needed in New Zealand. Root stays where he is for the time being as Compton deserves this series to try to cement his place and many a decent player has started lower down the order before taking the opening slot.

  • venkatesh018 on February 27, 2013, 13:15 GMT

    Every team has its own blue eyed boy who keep getting picked over much more skilled and performing colleagues. In England's case it is Stuart Broad.

  • Tlotoxl on February 27, 2013, 10:05 GMT

    kiwicricketnut: You are forgetting the first rule of real cricket, wait till both teams have batted - If NZ XI score 45 like they did against SA only last month then 357/7 will look very good. Given the NZ test team has only got above 275 3 times in 22 innings in the last year then a substantial first innings for Eng looks at least likely even if our best bowler is sitting out the match.

  • AKS286 on February 27, 2013, 9:24 GMT

    For ROOt batting at no.6 at early career is not good not even in test not in Odis too. Root is technically good and temperament is also good which we saw in test against India. If he bat top to the order along with COOK he will get polish and refined each & every inning. Carberry,James Taylor are another good option for no. 6. Broad is inconsistent player. sure no one understand his line & length. Onion is the best option.

  • landl47 on February 27, 2013, 4:53 GMT

    The warm-up match has turned into a contest for the third seam bowling slot behind Anderson and Finn, who are both certainties (unless injured). The batting line-up is the test line-up going into the first match of the series, so there's no contest going on there, and Swann is playing to give him a bit more chance to find his rhythm; he looked a bit less fluent than usual in the ODIs.

    @bennybow: you mean those of us with extremely long memories. I (just, I was 8) remember Laker and Lock in 1956 and in the 60s/70s Illingworth and Underwood, but I can't remember too many others. Edmonds/Emburey rarely played together. Giles was almost invariably the only spinner in the side and his job was to keep it tight while the quicks took a break. In 2005 the bowlers were Harmy, Hoggy, Freddie and Jonesy, and Wheelie took 10 wickets at 50.

    BTW, I also don't remember England's rise in the 90s- it was their worst decade ever. It wasn't till Hussain became captain in 1999 that things improved.

  • kiwicricketnut on February 27, 2013, 4:35 GMT

    Calling nathan bell, your man jimmy neesham is carving up this world class batting line up. I know it just a warm up game don't think there is any tv coverage to get a grasp of how well people are playing but jimmy appears to be doing the bussiness, infact he's made this formidable batting line up look just a little vunrable before the tests. Still th

  • jmcilhinney on February 27, 2013, 4:21 GMT

    @bennybow on (February 26, 2013, 23:12 GMT), I don't think that anyone is suggesting that Monty himself is incapable of playing in certain countries. More that England are unlikely to play two spinners in countries other than in the subcontinent or UAE and, if Swann's first pick, that leaves Monty on the outs. Someone made a valid point that India and Pakistan, and perhaps even SL, would play two spinners pretty much everywhere regardless and Monty has looked good enough by comparison in UAE and India. If England are having trouble getting productivity out of a third seamer then maybe a second spinner is not such a bad idea, especially if they can fit Woakes in the team as an all-rounder. Given their reticence to play two spinners even in UAE and India though, I think that that's just too radical a proposition for the England selectors.

  • Cmar on February 26, 2013, 23:14 GMT

    Onions untested? Best bowler by a mile on county circuit last summer. The guy fought back from a very serious back injury to take 50+ wickets. When the chips are down he has the right spirit. Remember he did nothing wrong other than picking up that injury that gave Bres his chance . He was behind him at that time.

  • bennybow on February 26, 2013, 23:12 GMT

    Those of us with reasonable memories know that England often played 2 spinners in the past - 1 offie and 1 left armer. This was helped by having a decent all-rounder in the side (and I don't mean a batsman who can keep a bit). With all the energy England are devoting to filling other roles, I'm surprised they haven't come up with an all-rounder yet. As for the daft suggestion that Monty can only play in selected countries, I seem to recall England playing a slow left armer everywhere during their rise up the tree in the 90s - a certain Ashley Giles, selector. I do love irony.

  • Patchmaster on February 26, 2013, 22:52 GMT

    I think Broad doesn't have the pace, accuracy or skill to make the test side anymore. There are people who would do a better job than Broad, who are having to sit int he wings. His batting has also gone from the 'almost an allrounder' to number 11 status.