New Zealand has best chance in a generation to beat vulnerable England in a test series

By Foster Niumata


LONDON _ When England and New Zealand last met in test cricket, it was almost unfair.

That England was battle-hardened, strong and savvy, but on the down side of a glorious era. New Zealand was on the rise, far from polished, feisty but outgunned. England won those two tests by KOs.

They meet for two more, starting on Thursday at Lord’s, and just two years later the circumstances have switched.

England is in transition, improving, but at a rate that’s barely tolerated, and overshadowed by a feeding frenzy outside the dressing room.

New Zealand has become a team to be feared, and admired for its attitude, professionalism, and success. Since that whitewash at the hands of England, the Kiwis have been unbeaten, winning four of six test series.

The bookies have made England slight favourite, but that’s more to do with home advantage, which is marginal, and history, which is considerable.

England also has been in test mode for far longer than New Zealand, but that recent series in the West Indies showed how the home side has become more dependent than ever on fast bowler James Anderson.

Anderson became England’s No. 1 test wicket-taker in Antigua, he was the match-winner in Grenada, and produced his best overseas figures in Barbados. England better hope he doesn’t break down.

Second seamer Stuart Broad didn’t meet his previous standards, and allrounders Chris Jordan and Ben Stokes contributed little.

The batting lineup remains fragile, and likely to include uncapped opener Adam Lyth, who was taken to the Caribbean but unused. He’s scored a pile for county champion Yorkshire, and should become England’s 666th player.

The number is associated with the anti-Christ, but Lyth said he would take it: “I’m not bothered.”

He will open with captain Alastair Cook, who rediscovered in the Caribbean his confidence outside off stump, and his touch with a century and two fifties. He needs only 210 more runs to eclipse mentor Graham Gooch as England’s highest test run-scorer.

Joe Root also came home with his credentials enhanced, and was confirmed as the heir apparent as captain by being given the vice-captaincy.

His outstanding form in the past year (average of almost 95) was rewarded this week with the England best player award, which Root used to credit the man who he said got the best out of him, Peter Moores.

Moores was sacked this month as England coach by new director of cricket Andrew Strauss, who then barred the return of wild-card batsman Kevin Pietersen on the day he scored a maiden first-class triple century.

The way Strauss handled both was widely panned, but Strauss did the team a favour by fronting up on Tuesday and explaining to the team the reasons for his decisions, and his plans.

England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler said the players respected Strauss for giving them clarity.

New Zealand’s own issues were clearing up, namely the opening pair, and third seamer.

Martin Guptill, unwanted since the last tour to England, appears to have headed off Hamish Rutherford to open with Tom Latham, thanks to form at the Cricket World Cup, for English county Derbyshire, and in the last warmup at Worcester, where he scored 150.

The third seamer was a little harder, a choice between Neil Wagner, who was inexpensive, and Matt Henry, who takes wickets.

Five months since their last test, the Kiwis ought to be handicapped also by the late arrival from the IPL of captain Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson, new-ball pair Tim Southee and Trent Boult, and allrounder Corey Anderson.

But Southee brushed aside any concerns, saying they’ve been adapting quickly for years, and successfully.

Without being boastful, they expect to mark New Zealand’s 100th test against England with only a ninth win, setting up a shot at only a third series victory, and first since 1999.

Before England’s previous series, new board chairman Colin Graves called the West Indies a mediocre side England should beat. The comment was fair, but unwise in public, and that series was drawn. Graves has kept his thoughts on England’s prospects against New Zealand to himself. For certain, New Zealand isn’t mediocre.

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