Michael Vaughan and Peter Moores want their young team to develop consistency in all aspects on the pitch
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In their last 11 Tests, England's batsmen have failed to reach the lofty heights of 400 in their first innings, and nor have they dominated this series as ruthlessly as Michael Vaughan planned. However, the third Test against New Zealand at Trent Bridge represents a chance to equal a record that has stood since William Gladstone was prime minister. Not since 1884-85 has an England side named the same team for five consecutive Tests.
"We should win quite comfortably," Vaughan declared before the series began, a hostage to fortune if ever there was, and New Zealand's understated doggedness has repeatedly wrestled the bone from England's grasp. Twenty-four hours before the final Test, however, Vaughan struck a reserved figure, despite announcing an unchanged team. The shift in attitude represents a side acutely aware of the tougher challenges which lie ahead this summer; New Zealand's complacency at Old Trafford opened the door for England. South Africa are unlikely to be so generous.
"We've played four games together as a team, won three, and feel we're developing as a side, but we're aware of some areas where we know we can improve on," he said at Trent Bridge, whose magnificent new £8.2m stand on the Bridgford Road side is due to be officially opened by the Duke of Edinburgh tomorrow. "We've shown a lot of character and resilience where we wouldn't have done six months ago. We realise that scoring runs in the first innings is something that we have to try and do to beat the better teams in the world - you have to do that more consistently.
"There are periods where we've very exciting as a bowling unit, and periods where we're inconsistent, but you have to give the inexperienced guys some time to perform. Again, fielding, at stages we're very good, at others we're not so good. It's just a consistency basis all round that we need to develop to become a top team."
A change in form here would be a good starting point. India beat them last year, and Sri Lanka the year before - albeit on a pitch more akin to Colombo than Nottingham. They have an underwhelming four wins out of their last ten on the ground, despite its penchant to assist the swing bowlers. Indeed, the local wisdom is that the new stand also helped the ball to bend appreciably, perhaps explaining why no team has managed more than 279 at the ground this season.
"The lads have said that 84% have been caught behind the bat [this season], so that suggests the ball has moved around a bit," Vaughan said, "so that creates opportunities if the bowlers bowl full of a length, so we'll have to assess conditions tomorrow."
On their home turf, Ryan Sidebottom - New Zealand's tormentor-in-chief - and Stuart Broad should be a handful, and the same can be said of James Anderson even accounting for his unpredictability. For New Zealand, they have plenty to ponder and have switched James Marshall for Peter Fulton at No. 3. Brendon McCullum has been struggling with a back complaint, but is set to take the gloves after Gareth Hopkins was left out of their 12-man squad.
The sensible money is also on a recall for Tim Southee, the zingy 19-year-old who ought to enjoy the conditions, though Daniel Vettori flat-batted the suggestion and could still opt for the greater experience of Iain O'Brien. Pleasingly, Daniel Flynn - who lost two teeth to an Anderson bouncer at Old Trafford - will retain his place.
"I've seen a lot of guys go through similar and the worst thing is if they're reluctant to go out into the middle," Vettori said. "He [Flynn] wanted to get straight back out there, and even after surgery he wants to play, so that's the most telling sign. The pain he had running between the wickets has all subsided, so no problems. I might even put him under the helmet [at short leg]."
Inevitably, however, the scars from Old Trafford were a sore point of discussion. Vettori himself took 5 for 66 to bowl England out for 202, thus lifting New Zealand into the unchartered waters of being match favourites. It didn't sit comfortably with them: Monty Panesar ripped out 6 for 37 and, in the space of a couple of sessions, New Zealand's advantage was lost.
"There has still been a lot of talk about our performance within the group and how we can rectify it, but the chance we can start again brings us fresh hope," Vettori said. "It's only three or four of us who have been involved in it [third and fourth-innings collapses in recent years]. Complacency led to it. The fact we were 270 in front, we thought it would be enough and wanted to get out there and bowl to them and take wickets. It didn't work out. We got ourselves into a great situation and got to finish the job off instead of thinking what we've got is enough."
The solution to New Zealand's perennial underdog tag is clear in Vettori's mind, however, and it begins on Thursday. "We need to win a game against a good team," he said." Even looking back at Hamilton where we played really well, a portion of our second innings got frenetic and we lost wickets completely, but that's probably the nearest to a complete performance. We need to get ourselves into these positions and do it properly. Until we do that, we'll always be tainted with that brush."
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo