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The Preview by Alan Gardner
March 5, 2013
Match factsMarch 6, 2013
Features : All-round England clear favourites
News : England are Test 'giants' - McCullum
News : Bracewell in doubt for first Test
Preview : England must take New Zealand seriously
News : Finn keeps his run-up short and simple
Series/Tournaments: England tour of New Zealand
With crisply starched whites and a spring in their step, Alastair Cook's Test side will begin their first assignment of 2013 looking to continue on the upward curve that they began to forge in India last year. Their opponents, New Zealand (or Not Australia, as some observers keep pointing out), having already experienced the low of 45 all out in Cape Town, will be ready to pounce on any hint of complacency, however, as Brendon McCullum and Mike Hesson seek a soothing balm for the still-raw wounds of the captaincy debacle.
The removal of Ross Taylor as captain in all three formats needs little further raking over but it should be noted that his last Test appearance came in New Zealand's historic win in Colombo last November, when his individual contribution with the bat amounted to scores of 142 and 74. His return to the middle-order will add class and experience to a line-up that was mercilessly ripped apart by South Africa but, should the team come under pressure again, the apparently fragile harmony of the dressing room could be tested.
While McCullum is still working out his brief as Test captain, Cook has eased so comfortably into Andrew Strauss' old job that he may as well be playing in slippers. Three vast centuries in India extended a remarkable run of scoring whilst in charge and more success will be expected against a team ranked a lowly eighth in the world. Having suffered a chastening tour-match defeat in Queenstown, in which England's three seamers could only manage seven wickets between them, Cook knows that full focus is required. For now, the Ashes can wait.
New Zealand LLWLL (Completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
He missed out on a return to the side in South Africa with a knee injury but Peter Fulton is set to resume his Test career after a hiatus of more than three years. Since Fulton made his debut at No. 3 in 2006, New Zealand have used 15 different openers and that will become 16 in Dunedin, when Hamish Rutherford will come into the side. Fulton was second in the Plunket Shield run-scorers' list last season, with 902 at 56.37, and at 34 has the experience to play the senior role. Should he fail, New Zealand fans might seriously start to consider a campaign for Mark Richardson to abandon his TV mic and make a return.
Nick Compton may feel particularly unlucky that his solid start to life in Test cricket, at the seasoned age of 29, has coincided with the rapid rise of Joe Root. Between England's disastrous start in Ahmedabad and Cook getting sawn off twice in Nagpur, Compton and the captain provided opening stands of 123, 66, 58* and 165; but after Root's eye-catching debut from left-field, talk has turned to fitting the younger model into the side at the top of the order, where he bats for Yorkshire. Compton averages 34.66 but he will want to double his high score of 57 to feel secure of his place.
As if the controversy over the captaincy wasn't enough for New Zealand to deal with, Doug Bracewell has been ruled out with a foot injury sustained cleaning up glass after a party, ending an unbroken run of 15 Tests since his 2011 debut. It means Neil Wagner is certain to start and the final position is between Ian Butler, who hasn't played a Test in more than eight years, and uncapped spinner Bruce Martin.
New Zealand 1 Peter Fulton, 2 Hamish Rutherford, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Dean Brownlie, 6 Brendon McCullum (capt), 7 BJ Watling (wk), 8 Tim Southee, 9 Bruce Martin/Ian Butler, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Trent Boult
Compton may not have made many runs in Queenstown but he should continue as opener, with Root retaining his place at No. 6 and being expected to provide a few fill-in overs with the ball. Andy Flower has cautioned against over-inflating the Root bubble, despite his gravity-defying start to life in international cricket, so although he may be a long-term option as Cook's opening partner, a knee-jerk elevation is unlikely. The only other issue remains the third seamer slot, with Stuart Broad set to feature ahead of Graham Onions and Chris Woakes.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Nick Compton, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Joe Root, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Steven Finn
Pitch and conditions
The conditions may aid the seamers early on but it is quite possible to build big scores later in the match on what should be a decent pitch - South Africa made 435 for 5 after conceding a first-innings lead here a year ago and the last two Plunket Shield fixtures in Dunedin featured Otago declarations on 569 for 8 and 651 for 9. The weather seems to have turned autumnal on the south island and the possibility of cloud cover is likely to further influence the captains at the toss, with McCullum hinting he would bowl first.
Stats and trivia
"You have to take on the big players and find a way to limit their impact on the series. If we do that it could well create some doubt in their squad. We have plans in place for all their players. How we implement those will determine how successful we are. "
"As players we've got to focus on this game and worry about the other stuff after it. But it's an exciting time to be an England player. In the T20s and ODIs it showed how competitive both sides were. If we play to our potential we will be a hard side to be beat."
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