Just four points separate New Zealand and England in the context of the ICC World Test Championship as the two sides get ready to battle in a two-match series.
With two Super Overs helping England pip the Blackcaps in the World Cup final and the recent T20I series, there will be added motivation for the home team to come out on top.
For the visitors, it is the first Test assignment for Chris Silverwood since replacing Trevor Bayliss as head coach.
The previous two-Test series between the sides in New Zealand in 2017-18 saw the hosts come out trumps by a narrow 1-0 margin.
The upcoming series, beginning on Thursday, promises to be a tight contest.
Here, we look at the key battles that could decide the series.
Boult v Sibley
Having dropped Jason Roy after a miserable Ashes debut, England have called up young Dominic Sibley to partner Rory Burns at the top of the innings.
The 24-year-old Warwickshire man is an old-fashioned opener who loves to dig deep and he comes into his maiden Test series on the back of some impressive form of late.
The right-hander warmed with a ton in a recent practice game against New Zealand A and was the only batsman to breach the 1,000-run mark in the 2019 Division One County Championship. His last outing for Warwickshire saw him register scores of 215* and 109 against Nottingham and it is no surprise that he has been called up after racking up those stunning numbers.
However, the hosts will want to keep the rookie on a leash in the two matches and bank on their senior pace ace Trent Boult to do that job. The 30-year-old is one of the best proponents of the swinging ball and his last seven Test appearances against England have yielded a staggering 44 wickets.
The home conditions are bound to play to Boult’s strengths and the left-armed seamer will be the chief threat for Sibley with his ability to bring in the ball sharply against right-handers.
Williamson v Archer
Jofra Archer’s Ashes debut lived up its hype with the express pacer rattling the No1 ranked Steve Smith in his first appearance. The Barbados-born fast bowler’s red-ball credentials were questioned before that series but he has shown that he has the resilience for the five-day game.
Having served up an enticing battle with Smith in England, Archer will now relish the challenge of facing up to another ‘Fab Four’ batsman in Kane Williamson.
20 centuries, an average of over 52 and more than 6,000 runs is a testament to Williamson’s Test credentials, with the right-hander leading the Kiwi outfit by example. He and veteran Ross Taylor are the backbone of the New Zealand batting with their penchant of playing the long innings.
With Williamson having only recently recovered from a hip injury, Archer will be looking to make life as uncomfortable for the New Zealand skipper with his pace and the steep bounce he generates.
This potential battles could be the most exciting of the series and whoever comes out on top is likely to give his side the advantage.
Santner v Stokes
New Zealand will be fully aware of Ben Stokes’ prowess after the England all-rounder rescued the hosts from the dead in the World Cup final at Lord’s. They will also have watched Stokes take apart the formidable bowling attack of their Trans-Tasman rivals Australia at Headingley in August.
Born in Christchurch, Stokes only moved to England at the age of 12 and now returns as the vice-captain of the touring team. The left-hander has been bailing England out of trouble all summer and he will be their go-to man for a crisis in the southern hemisphere as well.
Stokes loves to take on the spinners, especially left-armers, but he will have to be wary of the guile of Mitchell Santner.
The hosts have named two spinners in their Test squad and it looks likely that Santner will pip Todd Astle for the sole berth in the playing XI. Groomed much in the mold of former New Zealand spin talisman Daniel Vettori, Santner is not the sharpest turners of the ball, though he brings with him intelligence in abundance.
Should Stokes go on the offensive, Santner will fancy his chances of bamboozling the England star man with his extremely subtle variations.
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