New Zealand vs England: First Test Preview

Batsman faces bowler in front of packed cordon

We preview the first Test of what promises to be a fascinating Test series to be contested between New Zealand and England. 

Positioned fourth and fifth, respectively, in the International Cricket Council's Test rankings, New Zealand and England return to the longest format after a slew of limited-overs competition recently.

The Black Caps, in fact, haven't played Test cricket since early December 2017, when they beat the West Indies. England's last Test, meanwhile, was early January's defeat to Australia in Sydney.

New Zealand v England | 22 March - 26 March | Eden Park, Auckland 

To Win Match
New Zealand 5/2
Draw 16/10
England 15/10

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New Zealand
The Black Caps have played 13 ODIs and 11 T20Is since their last Test match - and it'll take a considerable amount of planning and implementation to switch modes properly. While they changed personnel a good few times through the two dozen limited-overs fixtures, Trent Boult and Tim Southee were present for the most part. Their bodies might be tired, but their minds fresh heading into this series opener.

They'll welcome the presence of Neil Wagner, who is a solid support seamer to have around - and primed to take centre stage on occasion, too. In the slow-bowling ranks, Todd Astle has been preferred to fellow wrist spinner Ish Sodhi, while Colin de Grandhomme and Matt Henry are the back-up options. The return of wicketkeeper-batsman BJ Watling has effectively sidelined Tom Blundell again.

Ross Taylor is battling to recover from injury, but should be fit enough in time for Thursday's start. If not, Martin Guptill - a late addition to the squad - should come into contention, albeit not in his regular opening berth. Those berths are, rightly, reserved for Jeet Ravel and Tom Latham. The pair need to prepare well for their maiden day-night Test match.

This, indeed, is the ninth day-night Test - and a first for New Zealand. All eight so far have produced results - no draws. Thursday through Monday shouldn't prove any different. England have done this once, against the Windies, a year ago, when they triumphed by an innings and 200-plus runs at Edgbatson in Birmingham.

England
England have not won a Test against a top-tier nation since August 2017, when they got the better of South Africa in the United Kingdom. Away from home, for a victory over a team other than the West Indians or Bangladesh, they have to look as far back as August 2016, in Sri Lanka. This shoddy 18-month away record doesn't bode well for a taxing series in Auckland and beyond.

Plenty of focus surrounds Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes. The former is just one wicket away from taking 400 in Tests - and the latter not guaranteed a bowl, yet. He's still recovering from a back injury. Broad, too, might lose the new ball to, say, Chris Woakes or Mark Wood, as England start to plan for life after the long-serving Broad-James Anderson combination.

The tourists appreciated some decent preparation across a couple of warm-up matches recently, with Joe Root and Liam Livingstone among the standout performers. Root's role with the ball could become all the more important, if spinning all-rounder Moeen Ali continues to prove off colour in the longest format. Livingstone, particularly for this day-night match, could be a big threat, as leg-spinners have been known to capitalise in floodlit conditions.

England will be hard pressed against a Kiwi outfit they haven't won a Test against, in New Zealand, in a decade. But the Black Caps have won just six of their last 20 Tests at this venue, including 1992's heavy defeat to the English. The touring class of 2018, of course, will take inspiration from this - and look to replicate the result more than two dozen years later.

Verdict: New Zealand 5/2
Although a stronger limited-overs than Test unit, the Black Caps have too much going for them in home conditions to lose, especially if strengthened by the selection of a fully-fit Taylor.

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Written by Jonhenry Wilson for Hollywoodbets

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