After a chastening Ashes series, England return to Test cricket to face New Zealand in a day/night match start on Thursday in Auckland.
England’s Test form is a curious one – so assured on home soil, but so poor away. It’s now 12 Test matches since their last victory overseas, and they haven’t really looked like getting a win for much of those games.
Still, with Ben Stokes back available, the Three Lions will fancy their chances, though Joe Root knows he’ll have to start winning away Tests sooner rather than later.
All-rounder to add balance
The re-introduction of Stokes can’t be overstated, with his addition having a knock-on effect on the rest of the team.
With Stokes adding depth with both bat and ball, less pressure will be on Moeen Ali to deliver, and he’ll hope to put his horror Ashes behind him.
Ali will likely move back down to number eight, with Jonny Bairstow slotting in at a more natural number seven – meaning the lower order that powered England to series wins over South Africa and the West Indies in the summer is back to its full complement.
Whereas England were forced to blood the likes of Craig Overton, Tom Curran and Mason Crane in the Ashes, the five-pronged bowling attack of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, Stokes and Ali is far more experienced, and gives Root a lot more dependability with the ball.
Blackcaps are a match for anyone
They’ll face a New Zealand side who are as good as any in this format.
The Blackcaps have lost just one of their last nine Test matches, and comfortably beat the West Indies earlier this winter.
Captain Kane Williamson is one of the world’s premier batsmen, and in Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner, they have a pace attack to rival the fearsome Aussie trio that blew England away in the Ashes.
Home comforts to make the difference
While England do look improved from the Ashes, I don’t think this will be the match that they will cure their travel sickness.
They have played some naïve cricket at times, and there are still question marks over Mark Stoneman and James Vince in the top three, which means the Kiwi pace bowlers can make some early in-roads.
England have made a habit of failing to seize the initiative when key moments are presented to them – something this New Zealand side can take advantage of. I’ll be backing a home victory.
I don’t think we’ll see a mountain of runs in this one.
Reports are that the pink ball is swinging prodigiously under the lights in practice – and with some fine exponents of lateral movement on both sides, I think this will be one for the bowlers.
Grosvenorsport.com make it 5/1 for no century to be scored in the match, which I think could be a shrewd bet.