England take on New Zealand tomorrow in the opening Test in Dunedin. With question marks hanging over the New Zealander’s party antics with two players looking to miss out due to freak injuries in the same day, while Steven Finn will have to prove he can be as potent off his new shortened run-up without conceding no-balls.
With a new law being introduced meaning that Finn’s trademark of knocking the bails of the stumps in his delivery stride is now punishable as a no-ball as it was deemed ‘off-putting for batsmen’. Well it’s been coming for many years, but it is now confirmed, cricket is a batsmen’s game. How does Finn’s ankle differ in any way from a batsman charging down the wicket? Or the players you get in youth cricket who stamp really loudly at the non-strikers end while the bowler runs in? Or even the ‘fake switch-hit’? These are all off-putting for bowlers, but none outlawed. Next they’ll be outlawing fielders at mid-on or mid-off walking in as it ‘in in the batsmen’s eye-line and off putting’. Please ICC, help these bowlers out. Since the introduction of twenty20 it’s been a hard-time for bowling. Unless your Jade Dernbach, I think that might be the only reason he is a professional! I digress…
Finn’s shortened run-up will be scrutinized closely by the management and media during this tour. With his form taking a dip in the one-day series and a poor warm-up game where he looked timid, he will have to impress before the Ashes summer. Especially with Chris Woakes and Graham Onions pushing for his spot in this series, not to mention Stuart Meaker, Chris Wright and James Harris when the county season begins. Stuart Broad will also have to prove his fitness over all five days with his unfortunate incurable heel injury. Onions and Woakes will fight it out for Tim Bresnan’s vacant spot as the Yorkshireman sits at home with his elbow in ice hoping to be fully fit for the summer. Young star Joe Root is expected to start the first Test after Andy Flower called for praise to ease on the youngster and let him progress at his own rate. His rise through the ranks has called given hope to young players like Ben Foakes and Shiv Thakor, after Root completed just one full county season before being handed his debut in all three formats. Foakes is currently in Australia playing for the England Lions while Thakor missed the U-19’s tour through injury.
England will have extra pressure coming from coach Andy Flower due to their warm-up loss to the New Zealand XI. Flower is a strong believer in treating warm-up games as important matches and a first loss in seven years will not have pleased him. Broad and Finn looked lack-luster and didn’t threaten while the majority of the batsmen looked out-of-form. Chris Woakes showed signs of the fantastic swing bowling and was the stand out performer.
The Black Caps will go into the first game definitely without Jesse Ryder and probably without Doug Bracewell, after both suffered injuries during and after a party a few days ago. Jesse Ryder severed tendons in his wrist, meaning he will be out of action for six months, including missing the IPL for which he was bought for over NZ$300,000 by the Delhi Daredevils. Bracewell’s injury is under investigation because the team management were not convinced by his version of events, where he claimed he cut his foot clearing up after the party. The 22-year-old looks set to miss the first Test.
Ross Taylor will continue his re-integration into the setup after fall-out with head coach Mike Hesson. With Bracewell set to miss out more pressure will be put on youngster Tim Southee’s shoulder’s as the face of New Zealand fast bowling. This may be the only opportunity New Zealand players will have the chance to play Test matches against England as the IPL clases with the series in England. Nathan and Brendon McCullum are currently expected to play, along with the likes of Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder (who will miss out anyway due to injury). This fixture clash seems to be a breach of the agreement held between NZC and the players’ association stating that there will be an IPL window for centrally contracted players’, however, nothing on this matter has further been mentioned. Brendon McCullum will continue to captain the side.
Sadly, as many English tour’s of New Zealand have been, this will be a selection tour, for players to prove they are worthy of an Ashes place and fight off the Lions predators. New Zealand will look to show they are not a walk over after promising one-day and twenty20 series, a serious show of strength in this series could lead to an upset in the summer. My prediction is for England to take a 2-0 victory with the second Test being a bore-draw due to New Zealand’s strong batting display. Expect both sets of batsmen to dominate as the bowler’s toil in the heat, but England’s more experienced attack should be able to break the Islander’s defense’s enough to claim victory. Watch for Neil Wagner to add to his 5 Test wickets after impressing in the warm-up game and Chris Woakes to stake a claim for an Ashes spot. Joe Root should continue his good form while Pietersen may struggle to motivate himself which could cause his form to continue to fall, Ross Taylor will be a solid performer.