England in New Zealand, 2012-13 March 4, 2013

England must take New Zealand seriously

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New Zealand is a country of adrenalin-fuelled adventure sports, but the expectation is that the Test series that starts in Dunedin on Wednesday will not get pulses racing in the same way. In fact, there have been plenty of suggestions that all England need to do to bag a 3-0 whitewash is to turn up. There has just been the odd hint of disquiet from the New Zealand viewpoint that this is being treated as an Ashes warm-up. The New Zealand XI victory in the tour game in Queenstown has not gone unnoticed.

New Zealand's recent Test form is leading to the low expectations but perhaps it should not be taken as so black and white. They are not the only team to have been recently bowled out for under 50 by South Africa; the match before that they beat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka to level a series (the same result England managed). They are now back on home soil, after extensive periods touring, which should make them feel more comfortable.

England begin as clear favourites. That is usually the way when they tour here but history is littered with examples of the challenge having proved harder than expected. Last time, in 2008, they lost in Hamilton by 189 runs, getting humbled on the final day by Kyle Mills and Chris Martin. In 2002 they went into the final Test, in Auckland, with a 1-0 lead and despite the match being badly hit by rain lost by 78 runs. Although Michael Atherton's team were ultimately 2-0 winners in 1997 they had to overcome the embarrassment of being defied by Danny Morrison in the first Test.

This time, led by the combative Brendon McCullum, New Zealand are far from so hopeless that England can ignore the immediate challenge. Clearly, the recent problems surrounding the shockingly handled change of captaincy have destabilised the team - rumours of differences in the dressing room persist, although New Zealand aren't alone in that - but McCullum is a single-minded leader who faces his task head on.

From England's point of view, anything less than a 2-0 scoreline (there is a chance of rain at some point, not least in Dunedin) will be a disappointment. Having put their Test game back on track in India after a difficult 2012 they now need to redevelop that ruthless edge which characterised their play during 2011.

After the upheavals of last summer - Kevin Pietersen's problems and the retirement of Andrew Strauss - the team has been stabilised. Nine of the first-choice XI for Test cricket are set in stone; the two areas for debate are the third fast-bowling slot and the long-term opening partner for Alastair Cook.

Stuart Broad looks set to return to support James Anderson and Steven Finn, but doubts remain over how much long-form cricket he will be able to play as he attempts to manage his heel problem. It seems inconceivable that he will be able to go through such a full programme this year - 14 Tests, with a 15th in January 2014 - without another break. Beyond him, too, there are now a few more questions about the depth of what follows than had previously been thought.

Nick Compton will retain his position alongside Cook and he deserves the opportunity to build on his hard work in India. At 29, he still has time to forge a lengthy Test career but he needs to show he can do more than purely blunt the new ball.

As odd as it may sound considering the considerable averages of most of England's top order, New Zealand should feel they have a chance to make early inroads. Compton and Pietersen are short of time in the middle and Jonathan Trott has not been quite at his best. And in the opposite corner the home side have, amid all the problems, formed a decent pace attack.

"From England's point of view, anything less than a 2-0 scoreline will be a disappointment. Having put their Test game back on track in India after a difficult 2012 they now need to redevelop that ruthless edge which characterised their play during 2011"

Tim Southee is back to lead the line and has matured into a consistent swing bowler. His success in Sri Lanka, where he took 12 wickets in two Tests, was the mark of someone entering his peak. Doug Bracewell, fitness permitting, can produce incisive spells while Trent Boult, as long as he doesn't drop it short, can swing the new ball. Neil Wagner also caused England problems in Queenstown.

In turn, though, New Zealand's batting will be severely tested, especially by Anderson's swing and Finn's pace. They will have a new-look opening pair - likely to be Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton - and it has been a while since the side have been given consistent starts. Four of the last six first-wicket stands have been single figure (albeit three of them came against Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander) and the last hundred opening partnership was 12 Tests ago in January 2012 against Zimbabwe; the last against a major nation another four Tests before that.

The middle order, however, offers the hope of something better. Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, McCullum, Dean Brownlie and BJ Watling has a solid ring about it, although there is an argument that McCullum should be at No. 3 to allow Williamson to develop lower down. Watling, and to a lesser extent, Brownlie impressed for New Zealand XI in Queenstown, McCullum is in strong form and Taylor's hundred in the Napier ODI has put him back on track.

The public also need a team they are pulled into watching. Unlike with the rugby union side, there is not the expectation, or demand, that they will bring home the major prizes but neither is embarrassment accepted. New Zealand Test cricket desperately needs some good news over the next three weeks. A series win, though, would verge on miraculous.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mitty2 on March 6, 2013, 11:41 GMT

    as an aussie, hoping for a complete upset from NZ to gain some consolation and respite from the terrible selections and the terrible performance of the indian series. unfortunately, with the sheer differential of talent and experience (btwn NZ and eng), this will not happen without england becoming complacent and/or arrogant.

    And to be perfectly honest, i'd much prefer for england to win 3-0 in this series than lose it. As then, the complacency could possibly come into the actual ashes series, especially with the hyperbole and arrogance provided by the team and the english media (Michael Vaughan and matt prior anyone?)

    with england having lost more tests than australia since the ashes, despite their supporters advocating 'superior talent' in the english line up, they have been outshone by many teams (SL, SA and pak), and some of this has been due to complaceny. So you think theyd have learnt their lessons and would respect their opponents more, but historically, this hasnt happened.

  • JG2704 on March 5, 2013, 21:11 GMT

    Disappointed for Swann - Good luck to Monty

    May be a good toss for NZ to win with the overhead conditions

  • JG2704 on March 5, 2013, 20:54 GMT

    @landl47 on (March 5, 2013, 18:13 GMT) I repeat - as I did before re 5/1/5 - our best series result in decades was our 2005 Ashes win in which we used that formation. And as I have said before , that formation became 6/1/4 when S Jones got injured and Collingwood came in and not because it wasn't working. Would you say a 6 and 7 of Prior and Woakes would be inferior to Flintoff and G Jones? Obviously Woakes has much to prove but does he look any less likely than Flintoff at this stage of their respective careers - with bat or ball. The other thing is 5/1/5 would lighten the workloads of the pacers which would mean the bowlers would more likely always be fresher and may limit injuries/burnout. I'm just waiting for the day when one of our pacers breaks down when playing a 3 paceman attack. Anyway , they'll never do it - just like they'll not drop any of their golden boys when in bad form

  • dummy4fb on March 5, 2013, 18:38 GMT

    Good morning New Zealand. First "morning" of a test series - first cricket on the TV since last summer where the commentators are there. Previous run and giggle, all day pyjama games over. Game on!

  • landl47 on March 5, 2013, 18:13 GMT

    @Si Baker: although you put your point well as always, aren't you being a bit selective? England's last Ashes tour was a pretty good win for England and they used only four bowlers. D'Oliveira, great batsman though he was, bowled little wobblers like Collingwood, whom you couldn't call an allrounder. On the other hand, England got thrashed between 1989 and 2005, during which time they tried repeatedly to play with 5 bowlers by including bits and pieces cricketers who weren't worth their place in either discipline.

    Woakes is a promising (still only 23) young player and I've been impressed with the improvements in his game in the last year. However, he isn't as good a bowler as Broad yet and certainly not as good a bat as anyone in England's top 6. Playing him just because he does both will not work until he is good enough to hold his place as a specialist in at least one discipline. As of now, he'd be the bowler I'd bring in if one of the top 3 was injured, not otherwise.

  • CricketMaan on March 5, 2013, 17:59 GMT

    How i wish Ryder was in that line up, could have spiced up a lil bit

  • NostroGustro on March 5, 2013, 17:41 GMT

    If we can negotiate Anderson and Finn (no easy job!), I feel Broad and Swann can be dealt with reasonably comfortably. This gives me a faint glimmer of hope that one or two in the top seven can contribute a decent score. Then as mentioned, despite the potential of the England top seven, I feel there are chinks in the armour that the bowling contingent can exploit. Wishful thinking perhaps as this English team has proven ability whereas we rarely deliver on promise. Can't wait though!

  • blanket22 on March 5, 2013, 16:56 GMT

    9 out of 11 being set in stone! I think it is 8 out of 11 as Root has played 1 test match!

  • JG2704 on March 5, 2013, 15:19 GMT

    @Rabies on (March 4, 2013, 23:52 GMT) I agree that SA seemed to have pulled away somewhat in the rankings but results don't always work that way. For one you have to take into consideration the weather and I believe they (SA) had no chance of winning one of the tests and the other drawn test I felt SA were unambitious in their declaration. Had the series been uninterrupted by weather the chances are SA would have won 3-0 Australia got the better of SA in 2 of the tests (something Eng did not do) , so that should surely mean that because Eng just won in India and Aus were better than Eng vs SA , that Aus would breeze through India - right?

  • subbass on March 5, 2013, 14:16 GMT

    Said all along this would be a hard series. Too many England fans WERE expecting an easy win. Well, they are not saying that now, I would not be surprised to see a 1-1 draw in truth. And although there will be people who think that is a poor result, I think it is about 'par' so to speak. If Broad and Swann were fully fit perhaps I would be more confident. But they are not and Finny has had his injury issues. If England start well then they ought to be ok mind you. You would not see much way back for NZ if England go 1-0 up in Dunedin.

    Still, perhaps England losing the warm up game is a blessing in disguise, it will hopefully sharpen the mind. because there is no doubt that if England play well they win.