New Zealand’s big summer of cricket starts in earnest on Thursday as Kane Williamson’s men prepare to lock horns with England in the first Test in Mount Mounganui.
The Kiwis take on the ‘big three’ of England, Australia and India in quick succession with eyes on making giant strides in the ICC World Test Championship.
Remarkably, the upcoming two-Test series against the English will not count towards the Championship, allowing both sides the luxury of sharpening their tools for further trials and tribulations.
Still, there will be no love lost between the two sides who have been involved in two thrilling tied matches recently – The ICC World Cup final at Lord’s and the T20I series decider in Auckland most recently.
Hosts eye payback
Williamson might have shrugged that question and the Kiwis might say that they’ve got on with it, but make no mistake, the hosts are still hurting after being pipped to a maiden World Cup crown on the basis of a boundary countback.
Further salt was rubbed into those wounds by the visiting Englishmen 10 days ago, when they clinched the T20I series on the back of another Super Over in Auckland. Throw in the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat to England last month and there are plenty of reasons for the hosts to want some payback.
To that end, Williamson and his men can bank on their formidable home record as they look to settle scores with the visitors. Since 2013-14, New Zealand have won 10 of the 12 Test series held on home soil with their only losses coming to Australia and South Africa.
They come into Mount Mounganui clash on the back of four home series wins on the bounce, with one of them coming against England in 2017-18. The Bay Oval, however, will be playing host to only its first Test in history with all previous 10 international games at the venue coming in the limited-overs formats.
Sibley in, Ferguson misses out
England have confirmed their playing XI for the clash and have confirmed an incoming debut for Dominic Sibley. The 24-year-old will have the responsibility of partnering Rory Burns at the top of the innings after catching the eye of the England selectors with an impressive 2019 season.
Brought up through the ranks at Surrey but now playing his trade with Warwickshire, Sibley has been knocking on the England door for a while. However, it is stellar 2019 County Championship display which has forced the selectors’ hands after he became the only batsman to breach the 1,000-run barrier in Division One.
An old-fashioned opener in the mold of Alastair Cook might be exactly what England need after their experiment with Jason Roy failed miserably in the Ashes series.
Lockie Ferguson, on the other hand, has missed out on a Test debut for New Zealand after the hosts opted to stick with the tried and tested trio of Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner for the series opener.
With England bringing with them the express pace of Jofra Archer, Blackcaps coach Gary Stead had vowed to fight fire with fire by name-dropping the rapid Ferguson as a potential debutant. The fast-bowler, though, will have to wait for his chance and will hope that the second Test might bring some better news.
England’s Test renaissance under Silverwood starts now
England ended their excruciating wait for a World Cup title at the expense of New Zealand, though the belief among many is that it came at the cost of their Test ambitions. That notion is not far from the truth with England’s gearing all their resources towards limited-overs success in the last four years.
While that approach did pay off handsomely as Eoin Morgan lifted the famous trophy at Lord’s in the suffer, their Test credentials were exposed two months later when Australia retained the Ashes urn on English soil for the first time since 2001.
Batting collapses have become an all too common theme with England’s Test outfit in recent years, with one of the most dramatic ones of them coming in New Zealand just over a year ago. Then, the visitors were reduced to 27-9 as Trent Boult laid siege, before ultimately limping to 58 all out.
Trevor Bayliss’ reign is now done and new head coach Chris Silverwood has immediately declared that it is Test cricket which will take priority under his regime. England’s decision makers at the top have already signalled their intentions of regaining the Ashes urn when they tour New Zealand’s Trans-Tasman rivals Australia towards the end of 2020.
That feat will take some doing, and plenty has to change in England’s Test outlook for that to happen. Their work towards that goal starts now in New Zealand and Joe Root’s men have the perfect chance to make a statement without the added pressure of World Test Championship points.
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