So after an intense summer of cricket, where England won the World Cup finally but still managed to lose the Ashes and I’m not personally sure whether I would still swap the results given a chance, we now head to the first part of a rather epic winter tour. Thankfully the white ball nonsense has now come and gone (though I’d still like to hear why we needed 5 T20 games instead of an extra Test Match, but hey that’s just me.)
So we come to the Test series, which sadly only consists of two matches and for some strange reason no Test championship points are on offer. Personally I don’t understand having a test championship if every game doesn’t contribute to the final points tally, but hey ho there’s a lot about international cricket that still baffles me.
England have rejigged their Test line up for this series with Dominic Sibley finally getting a chance to open the batting with Rory Burns. Joe Denly actually performed a decent job during the summer as a makeshift opener; however it is good to see England finally picking two proper openers to open the batting. With Denly likely to bat at three, then Joe Root will take his natural position up as a number four in the batting unit. Whilst having Root batting at number three seems like a good idea in theory, in practice it simply hasn’t worked out with his average markedly lower than when he bats in his favourite position. Personally I would much prefer England’s best batsmen to bat at the position where he feels he can score most runs rather than trying to plug gaps up the order.
It is also heartening to see that England have not been tempted to go back to Jonny Bairstow, who still has a myriad of technical issues in red ball cricket and instead have backed Ollie Pope to score the runs we know he is capable of at 6. Pope without doubt is a major talent and one who was fast tracked too quickly into the England team, in a batting position he was unfamiliar with; hence it should not be surprising that he didn’t perform to expectations first time around. Pope for me is one of the players that England that England should be building their line up around and I genuinely hope he has a good series in New Zealand. The only other question in the build-up to the first Test was whether Chris Woakes or Sam Curran should take the third seamers spot. Personally I’m happy that England have decided to go with Curran as I think his bowling skill set adds a different dimension to the England attack; however I do also understand the thinking that Woakes is the more threatening bowler despite his poor average with the ball overseas. This is something that none of the editors on the blog agree about, so it’s clear it’s a close-run thing.
As for New Zealand, they should come into the test series as favourites. Kane Williamson continues to be both an amazing batsmen and an amazing captain and will no doubt be the prize wicket that England need to take early to be successful on this tour. However in my opinion it will be how England deal with the New Zealand fast bowlers that will decide whether this Test series is won or lost. The combination of Southee and Boult, with Neil Wagner backing them up ably has proved to be the bedrock of the New Zealand’s success in home conditions and without doubt they will look at the England batting unit as an inexperienced one who can be rattled in slightly foreign condition. If England somehow manage to repel the new ball with wickets intact then they may be able to set the platform to score the runs needed to put pressure on the Kiwis; however if Boult or Southee reduce England to 3 or 4 down with the new ball, then once again it will be difficult for the middle and lower orders to dig England out of another hole.
From the first view of the pitch a couple of days ago, it certainly looks like it’s going to suit the seamers with more than a green tinge to it and I’ll personally be extremely interested to see if England adopt a less gung ho approach to batting as both Root and Giles have suggested or if once again they repeat the failings of summer and try to impose their will on the opposition bowlers. Equally if England bowl first then it will be just as interesting to see if the likes of Broad and Archer take the same approach as they did against Australia and keep the ball pitched up rather than banging it down halfway in the hope of intimidating the opposition batsmen.
I personally hope that it’s an even series with some good cricket played on both sides especially as I’m such a sucker for New Zealand Test venues. The time difference and the fact that we’re all the flat-out with work will mean it’s a bit of a challenge for us to cover the series in as much depth as we like, but we’ll certainly try to cover as much of it as we can.
As ever, any thoughts or comments are welcome below: