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1st Test Preview: Can England rise from their “winter from hell” in NZ?

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Last Updated on 6 years by Charbel Coorey

Hell has been terribly cold for England fans back home, witnessing their team surrender the Ashes with a 4-0 loss, which put into perspective how much England have regressed over the last two or three years. Much has been said and written since then, with the likes of Geoffrey Boycott extremely vocal about what England need to do moving forward. Their chance to move on begins with an assignment in New Zealand which could bring them some joy, with Auckland conditions under lights in March somewhat mirroring what they’d get back home.

England’s fortunes in ODIs since then is a far cry for their Test woes. In their last ten away Tests, they have lost eight, and in the recent Ashes series, they were in the series for a total three days in Brisbane, and one in Adelaide. That was it. Stuart Broad and Alastair Cook in particular came under question in Australia, and while the latter saved face with an unbeaten 244 in Melbourne, how they go in New Zealand will be interesting.

Stuart Broad bowled plenty of pies in the Ashes…

In the midst of an Ashes nightmare, there were a couple of potential dreams for England. Mark Stoneman, especially early in the series, showed he could hang in there against the world’s best attack, and will need to build on his starts if he wants to spend years at the top for England. I’m especially keen to see how Dawid Malan performs in this series, on the back of being one of England’s best in a sadly beaten side in Australia. I think he should bat at three and replace James Vince. England will also welcome the return of Ben Stokes, who was a key absentee in the Ashes, and I believe he has some making up to do.

One relief for England is now finally playing a Test match where Steve Smith isn’t involved. Just like the ICC is unable to get rid of its incompetency, England just couldn’t get rid of the brilliant Smith, whose appetite for runs against a broken England attack was incredible to see.

New Zealand will be a nuisance for England, no doubt, and the key to this is displaying the same desire. The last time New Zealand hosted England in Tests was in 2013, which ended in one of the most thrilling 0-0 draws you’ll ever see, as Matt Prior and Monty Panesar held on for a last-gasp draw. Ross Taylor looks in career-best form at the moment, and Kane Williamson will be keen to rediscover his form, which at the moment, is a little patchy. The Black Caps certainly have the bowlers in Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner to test England, especially under lights where the pink ball typically moves around the most.

However, New Zealand have struggled to adequately hold their own against the big boys of Test cricket. Since 2012, New Zealand have played 29 Tests against the other current top five sides, winning just two times. Even at home, they’ve won one out of 13 Tests played. The Black Caps have to see this is as their best chance to beat England – the last time they achieved this was in 1999. With England vulnerable, and New Zealand possessing a well-balanced side, the time is now for Kane Williamson’s men.

Key to a New Zealand win

What impact will the quartet of Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Trent Boult and Tim Southee have?
While I guess it is unfair to leave the excellent Neil Wagner out of this, these four have been some of New Zealand’s finest cricketers, and each will have a very important role to play. Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor are two of the finest batsmen New Zealand has produced, and have the potential to remind England of their Australian nightmares with the ball. Trent Boult and Tim Southee can certainly get the pink ball hooping around, and if they do, England could be in more Test match pain.
New Zealand have been excellent against the likes of West Indies and Bangladesh in Test cricket, but this is a great chance to beat a current top five side.

Key to an England win

What impact can their bowlers, and Joe Root have?
Out of the bowling group, only James Anderson left Australia with his pride intact. Stuart Broad was extremely wasteful and unthreatening, and it will be interesting to see if his apparent change in action works. Auckland under lights may very well bring success for these too, but they must pitch the ball up.
In their last day/night Test, in Adelaide, England were abysmal in the first innings, bowling way too short. In the second innings under lights, they got the ball swinging and were a handful for Australia. James Anderson took five, and Chris Woakes four. They’ll be hoping for the same here.
In addition, the performance of Joe Root will be key to England’s chances. His poor conversion rate has been spoken of in length, and here is a chance to take the first steps to improving it. He is a class player, and will want to benefit his team more with centuries.

Predicted teams:

In disappointing news for New Zealand, Mitch Santner, who was superb in the ODIs for England, won’t be available as he undergoes knee surgery that will keep him out for nine months. Kane Williamson will miss his control, and will be interesting to see how they replace him. Colin de Grandhomme will most probably occupy the number six spot, with BJ Watling coming back to the number seven slot. Todd Astle is the spinning option, if they do indeed choose to go with a spinner.
New Zealand XI: 1. Tom Latham, 2. Jeet Raval, 3. Kane Williamson (c), 4. Ross Taylor, 5. Henry Nicholls, 6. Colin de Grandhomme, 7. BJ Watling (wk), 8. Todd Astle, 9. Tim Southee, 10. Neil Wagner, 11. Trent Boult
Serious questions for England here. I think Mark Stoneman should get first crack at the opening spot, but do England stick with “20, 30 and out” James Vince, who continues to disappoint after 12 Tests? Should Dawid Malan be promoted to three, after a solid Ashes? How will Moeen Ali be used? Does Liam Livingstone get a shot? What will be the make up of their attack? 
For England to win, they need to be clear in their thinking. One thing going for them though is the return of Stokes, who provides England with a better all-rounder option than New Zealand have.
England XI: 1. Alastair Cook, 2. Mark Stoneman, 3. Dawid Malan, 4. Joe Root (c), 5. Ben Stokes, 6. Jonny Bairstow (wk), 7. Moeen Ali, 8. Chris Woakes, 9. Stuart Broad, 10. Mark Wood, 11. James Anderson

Stats & Facts:

  • The last time New Zealand beat England in a Test series was in 1999.
  • Joe Root averages 17.60 in New Zealand, and 39.53 against them overall, his lowest in Tests.
  • Stuart Broad needs one wicket to reach 400 Test wickets. He is also 44 runs away from achieving 3,000 Test runs, which will make him just the ninth player in Test history to achieve the double of 3,000 runs/400 wickets.

Prediction:

Long winter for England, and still lots of question marks about the make up of their side.
The key in this Test is which batting line up holds up better under lights. The battle between the big guns – Taylor and Williamson v Cook and Root promises to be a beauty, and so too the battle between the bowling line ups. These battles make it very difficult to make a prediction, but I will go with New Zealand to win, simply because they are more certain about the make up of their line up, and are up against a vulnerable England side.
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Charbel Coorey
Charbel Cooreyhttps://cricblog.net
Charbel is the owner & founder of cricblog.net, based in Sydney, Australia. He started the website to fulfill his love for the game of cricket. Charbel has also been featured on other publications including OP India, Times of India, and The Roar, among others. For any story tips or questions, you can contact Charbel at charbelcoorey@cricblog.net.

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