New Zealand v England, 1st Test, Dunedin March 5, 2013

England are Test 'giants' - McCullum


Alastair Cook expects England will have to work hard to exert their predicted superiority against New Zealand, but opposing captain Brendon McCullum has labelled the visiting side 'giants' of Test cricket as he laid down the challenge to his team.

In their Test history New Zealand have only eight wins against England, are currently eighth in the rankings and two matches ago were skittled for 45. Cook's team, meanwhile, secured a historic win in India before Christmas (something Australia will find tough to match), have a top seven where only one batsman does not average over 40, a pace attack that includes two of the in-form quicks in the world and one of the leading spinners on the scene.

"We know this is a huge series, we are taking on one of giants of the Test game and on the back of a tough South Africa series we know the importance of us showing a fighting spiriting for cricket in this country," McCullum said. "They aren't one of the best teams in the world for no reason so we know the magnitude of the challenge."

Cook is rightly confident of the players at his disposal, but was not going to be drawn into believing that the series was a foregone conclusion. Events of 2012 for England which, despite victory in India, included seven Test defeats (equaling their worst year) and the problems involving Kevin Pietersen has made Cook aware how swiftly fortunes can change.

"If we play to our potential we're going to be a hard side to beat," Cook said. "But you've got to do that to earn the right to get into good positions to win games of cricket. That's our challenge, to produce match-winning performances."

New Zealand's biggest problem has been putting consistently large totals on the board to give their improving bowling attack a chance. If you exclude Tests against Zimbabwe, New Zealand's score of 412 in Colombo last year (the match they won to level the series) was their first total of 400-plus since the tour of India in 2010.

With that in mind, some structural changes have taken place with McCullum returning to the middle order in an aim to stack that area with experience. The comeback of Ross Taylor, whose absence left a massive hole in South Africa, also means that there is a less callow feel about the line-up although, in the endless search of an opening pair, another new combination will be tried at the top. There is a sense that New Zealand will accept being 20 for 2.

"We've made a couple of changes to the balance of a line up," McCullum said. "That was what we spoke about after South Africa, playing six batters and strengthening that area so for us it's about making sure we get some good runs on the board to give ourselves an opportunity with the ball. If we take it as deep as we can you never know what we can achieve late in the game.

"We needed to make sure we firm up certain areas and get run production from our batters. Adding that extra batter, and shifting the experience to the middle order, should enable us to score runs later. The bowling line-up has the ability, on their day, to really test opposition."

England have a world-class opener in Cook - one of the most prolific in the game at the moment - but the role of his partner is still to be fully cemented by Nick Compton and provides a small opening for New Zealand. Compton passed 30 in four of his eight innings against India (one of them unbeaten in a small run chase in Mumbai) and Cook believes he has the ability to replicate his hunger for big hundreds in county cricket on the Test stage.

"The starts he got there, in different conditions to what he's used to, show he can adapt his game to international cricket," Cook said. "I think he'd be the first to admit he got those starts without kicking on.

"One of his great strengths, when he plays for Somerset, and the reason he forced his way into this England side was that when he got in he went big. It was slightly unusual that didn't happen. But I've got no concerns about that, because that's why he got picked.

"I think that single-mindedness that he's got means when he gets in, he's very hard to get out. I'd just love to see him get in and get that one big score which will get him up and running. He's definitely got the class to do that at international level."

Although England never name a team before a toss, Cook was delighted with the workload put in by Stuart Broad during the warm-up match and said he got through more overs than had been expected in Queenstown. Broad, who has been troubled by a heel injury since the India tour, is set to regain the third fast-bowling slot but Cook is aware that workloads will be a major issue over the next 12 months which includes 15 Tests.

"We know how injury, especially for fast bowlers, plays a very important part. I think we're very lucky with the strength in depth (we have) in that department, and we can rotate players if we need to or - if someone gets injured - replace them with a guy of very similar ability and class."

Meanwhile, New Zealand's Test programme continues to shrink with India's visit set to be trimmed to two Tests. McCullum is determined to show they can still be a force in the longer format. "We were competitive throughout the T20 and ODI series, but Test cricket is where the public want to see, and where we want to show, improvement."

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • j on March 6, 2013, 15:37 GMT

    Good sportsmanship from Mccullum as he's not afraid of saying it like it is, and giving credit where it's due. Reminds me of Morinho's 'the best team lost' last night.@Sid Abbas: If it's a bridge for sale that you've got then I'll take two, as there is just a small matter of how India have got on against England in the last few years...

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2013, 15:08 GMT

    If England are the giants of cricket,then I have a bridge for sale.

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2013, 5:05 GMT

    As a Kiwi, I want to see my team do well, but I know that they struggle, and lack of decent-sized series doesn't help matters. With the bowling attack we have, I'm hoping we cause a fair few hiccups and nervous moments in the English camp, as it will make for a more riveting contest. Our batting lineup, no matter what we try, simply won't manage to get on top of the English, even without Swann. Thank you to the English who are saying gentle things about us, such as you don't like seeing us lose, at least we aren't alone there! I've been doing a fair bit of cheering on your team also, especially when KP had that magnificent innings recently against Dale Steyn. Here's hoping for a good contest, and hopefully a boisterous and entertaining Barmy Army at the Basin when I'm there next week!

  • Ravi on March 6, 2013, 3:26 GMT

    Coming from India i feel ashamed that our board has cut down the NZ tour to two tests 3 one dayers and 1 T20. I apologize on behalf of our country. It feels disgusting for our board to look only into the monetary aspect of the game. Had it been Pak, Aus or Eng or Saf am sure it will be more profit making business for them. So i once again apologize on behalf of 1.25 billion Indians. Please accept it. Thanking you.

  • John on March 5, 2013, 18:00 GMT

    Nice bit of reverse psychology by McCullum, hoping to flatter England into thinking they can't lose this match. Unfortunately, there are some players on the England side that I'm far from confident won't believe him. Alistair Cook isn't one of them, and I hope he can get the others playing to their utmost.

    This is a handy England side, not great, but useful in most conditions. It would be nice to have a genuine allrounder in the Botham/Grieg/Flintoff mould, but there isn't one and that's all there is to it. Woakes isn't there yet with bat or ball and has to be good enough in one discipline to justify picking him above the specialists in the squad.

    Like jmc, I hope England win but I hate to see NZ lose. Their whole population is the size of a decent-sized city and for them to be even competitive is a fantastic achievement. I have no doubt they'll give England a stern test. Good luck to both sides for a great series.

  • Sriram on March 5, 2013, 17:50 GMT

    England and SA are the best test playing nations and the rest are home tigers even that cannot be said about India, SL who loose even at home! Whether Eng will win again in India, SL without Swann is for another day, but for now they are comfortably ahead along with SA than the rest. NZ might challenge Eng in patches, but can they beat Eng is a huge question mark. Where there is Cook, KP, Swann there is a WIN

  • Luke on March 5, 2013, 17:45 GMT

    This really is a no-win series for England, if we win all 3 tests by an Innings then everybody will say it's only NZ, they are rubbish. If we lose a test then the team will get castigated for being the pretenders to the throne with no heart.

    Realistically I see weather permitting a 3-0 win for England but there will be sessions and possibly even whole days when NZ are on top but Eng will still come back and win.

  • A on March 5, 2013, 16:11 GMT

    If the opposition wants call us test giants who am I to argue? He's the professional cricketer and you and I mere armchair pundits. It's an accurate statement IMO too. And i don't follow the line that SA are fast disappearing out of site. The series they won in Eng 2-0 was actually close as was the 3-0 loss in UAE. The Saffers are def. No. 1 but Eng has the potential to take that back. Its just a shame we're not playing SA again for 3 years!

  • j on March 5, 2013, 15:35 GMT

    They sure are Test Giants. Just ask any Indian or Australia fans what they think of England, it'll bring out a somewhat revelaing answer. England are famous for winning in a professional and also a fair way. They're led by a captain who's the best test opener in the world and a real gentleman too. You'd never see Cook acting in the kind of way that Ponting et al thought was appropriate behavious on a cricket field.

  • des on March 5, 2013, 9:03 GMT

    England are 'giants' of test cricket? Maybe McCullum has been reading Mark Nicholas's 'Fortress England' article again.

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