Are you ready folks? I certainly am. I’ve got my packet of Pro Plus, keg of Red Bull, and a veritable vat of coffee at the ready. If I don’t manage to stay up all night on Wednesday then it won’t be for a lack of trying.
I’m really looking forward to this test match. We’ve got two evenly matched teams – although New Zealand might just have the edge in home conditions – playing at one of the most beautiful cricket venues around. It should be worth my HD subscription on its own.
Am I optimistic about England’s chances? Yes and no. We’re very capable of winning if we play well. However, we shouldn’t underestimate New Zealand. I really like the look of their team on paper – in fact I like the look of their broader squad overall – and they’ll certainly fancy their chances too.
One could argue that the Kiwis have a more settled team with fewer weaknesses. It’s very hard to find any holes in their lineup in home conditions. Yes we could argue that Mitchell Santner’s Test record isn’t particularly impressive, but he’ll only be expected to play a holding role, and he’s more than capable to doing that.
I think much could hinge on the performances of the respective openers. New Zealand have a solid looking pair in Latham and Raval – the former has been in great form in recent series – whereas England have a slightly less experienced but potentially very promising duo in Burns and Sibley.
There’s no doubting the quality of the middle-order players that follow. With Root back where he belongs at number 4 (yes, I’ve always been in the skipper at second drop camp), and Stokes, Pope, Buttler, and Curran to come in next, England should put decent scores on the board if they can get through the new ball relatively unscathed.
New Zealand will be thinking exactly the same though. A line up of Williamson at 3, followed by Taylor, Nicholls, Watling, and Colin ‘The Big Man’ Grandhomme, looks full of runs. This is why the platforms established by the openers will be so important. Will the big guns on each side have to perform rescue missions or will they have the licence to play with freedom and press home an advantage?
Both bowling attacks also look very useful, although again I sense that the Kiwis might just have the edge. Jofra Archer and Broad offer a mouth-watering combination of pace and experience but so do Trent Boult and likely debutant Lockie Ferguson. I’m amazed that the latter hasn’t played Test cricket before because his record in domestic cricket and ODIs is impressive.
It’s the support bowling, however, where I think the hosts have a slim advantage. There’s not a lot wrong with Ben Stokes and Sam Curran but the Kiwis are really blessed in this department. So much so, in fact, that Tim Southee might not actually get a game. They also have the ever impressive Matt Henry, who’s a favourite of mine after his spell at Worcestershire a couple of years back, plus the uber aggressive Neil Wagner who always seems to be a handful.
Much will depend, of course, on the Mount Maunganui pitch. Thus far the surfaces England have encountered on tour have been lifeless and good for batting. The pitch in the first test is expected to be the same although reports have indicated that the strip currently looks a tad greener than expected.
We wait to see if the groundsman takes off the layer of grass before the game begins. Personally I suspect he will. After all, why give England’s bowlers conditions they enjoy when they usually struggle to take wickets with the Kookaburra ball on antipodean surfaces? One suspects the Kiwis might have a bit more knowhow in their own backyard if the pitch is sedate.
What are your predictions for the game and indeed the series? Have England got enough wherewithal to pull off the win? And how do you think our new boys will fare? It will be really interesting to see how Sibley and Pope get on. And indeed how Jos Buttler keeps.
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