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If it wasn't already clear that New Zealand are the closest challengers to India's current dominance of Test cricket, then their comprehensive victory at Bay Oval last week came close to confirming it.

While there are no Test Championship points at stake in this series, New Zealand do, at least, have the chance to close the gap on the runaway leaders of the ICC's rankings with a win at Seddon Park, and assert themselves as the side best equipped to beat them in a one-off final in two years' time.

That status will only be confirmed with a competitive showing on their tour of Australia next month, but the Hamilton Test this week provides an opportunity for them to demonstrate a quality not always associated with a country so sparsely populated: depth.

New Zealand coped perfectly well without Trent Boult on the final day of the first Test, but the news that he has been joined on the treatment table by prolific allrounder Colin de Grandhomme leaves them two key bowlers down.

The likelihood is that Daryl Mitchell - the seam-bowling allrounder - will make his Test debut in a straight swap for de Grandhomme, but it seems that New Zealand are not willing to let Lockie Ferguson off the leash just yet. Instead, Matt Henry - whose bowling average in the high-40s does little service to his control and pace - is set to come in for Boult; some English fans will remember his devastating spell as Kent's overseas player in 2018, which saw him take 75 Division Two wickets at 15.48 apiece.

For England, the past week could hardly have gone worse. It quickly became clear as BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner ground them into the dirt while scoring at just over two runs per over that their hotly-anticipated new blueprint for Test cricket was little more than an attempt to play more like New Zealand, by batting long and bowling dry, and as Stuart Broad admitted on the final morning, the first-innings effort of 353 all out was anywhere up to 150 runs short of a good score on a flat pitch.

Indeed, much of the post-match analysis has focused on Joe Root's captaincy, and perhaps with good reason. No Englishman has captained as many overseas Tests as Root's 14 with a worse win/loss ratio, and his ability to get the most out of Jofra Archer's talents in particular has been up for debate ever since the fast bowler's debut at Lord's. The rest of the squad and the management have both publicly stood by their man, though Ashley Giles illustrated the hollow nature of that in his press conference this week. "I'm not quite sure what anyone is expecting me to say," Giles said. "'We'll see how we go'? That's not a great vote of confidence in a captain."

Add into the mix the sad news that Chris Silverwood will return home after the second day of the Hamilton Test due to a family bereavement, and the racist abuse suffered by Archer on the final day at Bay Oval - not to mention an injury scare to Jos Buttler* - and it is clear that any attempt to start afresh has been wracked with difficulty.

The best way to remove the spotlight from Root before next month's tour of South Africa would be to win convincingly and end England's miserable record overseas under his leadership. But given they are winless in their last 16 games in Australasia - their last victory in this part of the world was the Sydney Test in 2011 - that is easier said than done.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

New Zealand WWLWW
England LWLWD

In the spotlight

Joe Root needs runs, and desperately. His batting average as captain has dipped below 40. He has slipped out of the top 10 of the ICC's batting rankings for the first time since 2014. Since the start of the English home summer in July, he has scored just 371 runs in 14 innings, averaging 26.50, with almost as many ducks (three) as half-centuries (four). Root insists that his batting has "just clicked" in training, and that a return to form is "round the corner"; England will be desperate for him to demonstrate that those are not empty words.

It scarcely takes one wicketless spell for a section of New Zealand fans to start questioning the purpose of Tim Southee, whose tight control over line, angle and seam position makes him the precision engineer to Lockie Ferguson's boy racer. But his three wickets on the second morning were not far short of decisive in keeping England to 353 in their first innings, and his record at home in the past five summers - 84 wickets at 24.59 - is a fair reflection of his supreme ability in familiar conditions.

Team news

Mitchell is set to make his debut as the swing-bowling allrounder, while Henry is likely to edge out Ferguson and replace the injured Boult. The rest of the side is unlikely to change, though Jeet Raval's spot might come under pressure ahead of the Australia tour with another unconvincing display.

New Zealand: 1 Tom Latham, 2 Jeet Raval, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 Daryl Mitchell, 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Matt Henry, 11 Neil Wagner.

The likelihood of England going into the Test unchanged took a hit on Thursday*, with news of Buttler suffering a back spasm while in the gym. If he is ruled out, that would mean Ollie Pope taking the gloves for only the sixth time in a first-class match. Zak Crawley would probably come in as batting cover, although England were pondering the use of Chris Woakes as another allrounder; Woakes could come into contention anyway, with Jack Leach's place far from certain after taking 2 for 153 in Mount Maunganui.

England: 1 Rory Burns, 2 Dom Sibley, 3 Joe Denly, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Zak Crawley, 7 Ollie Pope (wk), 8 Sam Curran, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Chris Woakes/Jack Leach, 11 Stuart Broad.

Pitch and conditions

The pitch was very green on Tuesday - it looked as you'd expect a surface to look three days out, rather than two - but is likely to be cut. It has been hot in Hamilton, and the groundstaff have watered the pitch heavily. Seddon Park is one of the lower-scoring grounds in New Zealand, where the ball swings a bit more due to the humidity, and it is a typical 'look up, not down' surface.

Stats and trivia

  • New Zealand have won five and drawn one of their last six Tests at Seddon Park.

  • Ross Taylor has made five of his 18 Test hundreds at Hamilton, and is 92 runs away from scoring 1000 at the venue.

  • In his 12 first-class games at the ground, Daryl Mitchell averages 39.33 with the bat, and 23.60 with the ball.

  • Dom Sibley's strength off his pads is offset by a weakness outside his off stump. On his debut last week, he scored five runs from the 87 balls that arrived outside off, and was dismissed twice.

  • England have lost five of their six internationals in Hamilton across formats, with their only victory a two-run win in a T20I in February 2018.


"It's fantastic opportunity for Daryl if he's selected. I think he has the capability to do what Colin has [done] in recent times. We're lucky we have Daryl to come in."
New Zealand bowling coach Shane Jurgensen hopes Daryl Mitchell can fill Colin de Grandhomme's big shoes

"When they were 600 declared, we knew our first innings wasn't quite good enough."
Ben Stokes took longer than most to realise England were in trouble

*0900 GMT - This story was updated with news of Buttler's injury