England sealed the limited overs portions of the tour despite encountering resistance and now enter what would previously be considered their favoured format. England’s test form has dwindled somewhat over the past year but saw a resurgence against India on the subcontinent. They strike me as a more dangerous limited overs unit these days but still cannot be underestimated in the test arena, following a successful integration of new blood. New Zealand will recognise the hint of an opportunity for upset following the victory for the New Zealand XI against the England XI, the one opportunity the English had to shake the rust from their test-hardened players who did not feature in the T20s and ODIs.
New Zealand 11/2
With the unfortunate exit of Martin Guptill as the result of a thumb injury, New Zealand are on the hunt for a new opening batsman to plug the hole. Hamish Rutherford and Tom Latham have been earmarked as the competitors, both sons of former New Zealand test cricketers. Rutherford comes into the test on a good run of form that saw him debut in the limited overs sides, as well as earn a call up to the New Zealand XI. His form in the tour match was also solid. He also wins the ‘my dad was better than your dad’ competition against Latham, so expect him to make his debut at the top of the order. Peter Fulton, who was forced to pull out of the South African tour with injury, will fill the other opening batsman role. 32-year-old Bruce Martin has also earned a call-up with Vettori out, the left-arm spinner having had to wait thirteen years since first being earning a place in the squad in the year 2000 and yet to make his debut. Unless the Black Caps decide on an all-out pace attack, Martin should start. Bracewell is likely to miss out following a cut to his foot that he suffered while at a house party. It seems Jesse Ryder isn’t the only Black Cap unable to handle his liquor.
With the arrival of the English test specialists also comes the arrival of coach Andy Flower. With the limited overs duties in the (so far) capable hands of Ashley Giles, Flower is able to concentrate on moulding a world-beating test side. He has the tools at his disposal, but Nick Compton’s role as opening batsman still hangs in the balance. He had a good tour of India without setting the world alight and will need to get that all important maiden test century under his belt if he hopes to keep his place. There has been talk of moving Joe Root up the order following his successful introduction into the game, but Flower was quick to remind the public that he has only played one test and as yet, no one really knows what the youngster is capable of. He has a fully fit squad at his disposal barring the injured Tim Bresnan, which I for one look at as a blessing in disguise. The faith that Flower has shown in the burly Bresnan continues to baffle me. Bell is in electrifying form, Stuart Broad’s heel looks to be holding up and Finn is coming off a new, shorter run-up which has already proved successful. The creases looked to be ironed out, until they lost their first tour match since 2006 on Saturday.
Dunedin has a relatively short test history, with England never having played a test on the ground. Only four tests have been hosted here and interestingly, the Black Caps are yet to lose. They beat Bangladesh and Pakistan and drew with the West Indies and South Africa. Very little rain is forecast but there will be cloud cover, which should swing bowlers on both sides.
BEST: Top England Batsman, Ian Bell 5/1
He managed to get a half-century in the first ODI and since then dropped off with mediocre contributions. He saw a return to the form he has showed over the last two years in the tour match against the New Zealand XI with a glorious 158. He’s got the game to succeed in the swinging New Zealand conditions and I foresee a big score from him here.
VERDICT: England 5/10
The New Zealand middle-order is looking far more stable than previously but should still struggle with the quality that England have in the swing and seam department. A few of them, BJ Watling especially, are in good form but I still see the English attack proving too much for them. These are the closest the English will come to home conditions, so I expect them to excel.