Auckland (D/N). Start UK time: 01.00 Thursday 22nd March  

England return to Test action after an Ashes series they’ll want to forget and this two Test series provides a perfect place for some to redeem themselves in familiar conditions but whilst New Zealand are a lower ranked team, England won’t be underestimating them – particularly their bowling attack.

England have only lost four Tests in New Zealand in the last 47 and New Zealand have only beaten England on four occasions out of the last twenty Tests the sides have played against each other (home and away) and with the return of Ben Stokes to the side,  England are unsurprisingly favourites to win both this match at and the series. Given the conditions and some uncertainty in the England side, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a drawn series.

This first Test is the first ever day/night match in New Zealand and will play into the home sides hands with their strong trio of swing bowlers. The pink ball swings more when it is new and even more under the lights although England won’t mind that in anyway.

 

Weather, pitch and conditions

There’s been rain around in Auckland and early signs are there’s plenty of grass on the drop-in pitch and the ball has been zipping around all over the place in practice. I’d definitely rule out backing the draw – expect the bowlers to be dominant.

 

New Zealand

New Zealand’s batting contains a lot of inexperience with many having played fewer than 20 Tests. There is talent there but to date Tom Latham and Jeet Raval lack consistency. The former is particularly vulnerable early in his innings to the moving ball.  New Zealand are fairly reliant on Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson in an otherwise inconsistent and slightly fragile looking batting line up. They have the potential for a collapse at any point.

first test

With doubts over Ross Taylor’s fitness and whether he can replicate the form we saw in the ODI series, Kane Williamson is probably woth looking at to be New Zealand’s leading run scorer at . He has the ability to construct an innings, leaving the ball when needed but then breaking out in to explosive and destructive shot playing.

New Zealand may opt to go with an all out pace attack in this first Test bringing in Matt Henry in place of a spinner but it will be Trent Boult or Tim Southee who are likely to be the most destructive and it’s a toss up which of them is likely to take the most wickets. They are a partnership in every way, often one setting up the other to take the wicket. Southee will swing the ball both ways and Boult has pace. Neil Wagner may be worth a look for leading wicket taker at , especially when you consider that he bowls left arm pace and can find reverse swing with the older ball.

 

England

England need to turn the tide on their fortunes away from home – it’s starting to become a real issue – they have one just won Test in their last 12 away from England.

But New Zealand provides a good opportunity to do that and return some confidence to players who took a battering in Australia. Both openers – Cook and Stoneman – know how to negotiate the swinging ball. James Vince is more of a concern because of his tendency to nick off.  Dawid Malan gave a very solid account of himself in the Ashes and can further cement his credentials in this series, he has a technique and mentality that means he will adapt to most conditions. He’s at to be England’s leading run scorer.

first test

But of most significance to England is the return of Ben Stokes to the side. He slotted straight back in during the ODI series and looks to be in good form with the bat despite his long absence. However, he has had a back injury which means England will wait until the last minute to make a call on whether he can bowl or not. If he can, England can return to their balanced looking side of four seamers plus Moeen Ali. If he can’t bowl, they’ll have to bring in another seamer – probably Craig Overton – and drop one of the batsmen – probably Vince.  Stuart Broad may not take the new ball with James Anderson with England instead giving it to Chris Woakes, who is worth a look at for England’s leading wicket taker at . If Stokes can bowl it means Bairstow – who has been in imperious form against the white ball – will drop down to seven and Ali to eight.

In terms of the batting, it’s very hard to look past either Joe Root, , or Alastair Cook at as being England’s highest run scorers given where they bat in the order and their ability against a swinging ball.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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