With the Test series against England set to begin on 21 May at Lord’s, New Zealand goes into the First Test with great confidence, a combination of both their outstanding form during the World Cup and the perennial state of chaos that has once again engulfed English cricket, largely courtesy this time of Kevin Pietersen (who else?)
Despite bookmakers installing England as slight favourites to win the (absurdly short) two-match series at around $2.63, the Black Caps have arrived in England in the eyes of many with their best chance of a series victory since Sir Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe were in their pomp. This sense of optimism has no doubt been helped by England’s recent performances in the Caribbean where they drew a three-match series 1-1 against a West Indies team that is hardly a formidable one in the test arena.
And then of course there’s KP.
The row over his continued omission from the England test side has reached gargantuan proportions and threatens to further deepen rifts in the England dressing room and amongst the game’s administrators. All of which is splendid news for New Zealand.
Pietersen would be the only batsman in the side that the potent Black Caps bowling attack would not be confident of being able to contain, and the only man able to score quickly enough to take a test match beyond the opposition’s grasp in a single session. With him out of the side and there being no immediate prospect of his returning, the pendulum has swung just that little bit further in New Zealand’s direction, with bookmakers now offering odds of around $2.80 for a series victory (the draw is around $2.88).
Their ability to adapt to English conditions will be at the forefront of the Black Caps’ minds, as it is with all touring sides, but the New Zealand batsmen have shown themselves to be nothing if not versatile, with the line up being bolstered by the return to the opener’s slot of Martin Guptill, who has already made runs in England this year for Derbyshire, including a career-high 227. Similarly, the bowling conditions may actually suit New Zealand’s swing bowlers such as Tim Southee, who are half a yard quicker than their English counterparts, more than those of the home side.
And the Black Caps also have a captain high on confidence after his astonishingly bold performances during the World Cup, and the contrast between him and under-siege Alastair Cook couldn’t be more stark, despite the latter’s belated return to form with a long overdue ton in a losing cause in the Third Test against the West Indies. Brendon McCullum appears to have the undying confidence and support of every player in the squad (not to mention every man, woman and child in the country) and this alone is worth a wicket or two every match. Throw in his explosive batting and the differences between him and Cook become even marked.
It all makes for a fascinating contest. The first Test Match is at Lord’s 21-25 May, followed by Headingley 29 May-2 June.