Ben Stokes’ England face Kane Williamson’s New Zealand (Pictures: Getty)
Since they last took to the field in March, England have appointed a new captain, head coach and director of cricket, turning to Stokes, McCullum and Rob Key as they look to climb back up the Test rankings.
Joe Root, Chris Silverwood and Ashley Giles all paid the price for England’s dismal red-ball form, with the side winning just one of their last 17 Tests and suffering an emphatic Ashes defeat to Australia last winter.
But it remains to be seen whether England improve under the new leadership group or continue to underwhelm. New Zealand, who were crowned world Test champions last summer, will hope for the latter.
The Black Caps are a force to be reckoned with under Kane Williamson but the team’s indifferent form since their World Test Championship final and a less than ideal preparation for this three-match series will give England hope.
England v New Zealand schedule
First Test (June 2-6, Lord’s)
Second Test (June 10-13, Trent Bridge)
Third Test (June 23-27, Headingley)
England’s struggles in Test cricket have been well documented and they go into this series sitting bottom of the World Test Championship table, below Bangladesh.
Zak Crawley and Alex Lees will resume their opening partnership but there are question marks over both players, who average 29 and 21 respectively in Tests.
Crawley endured a poor start to the County Championship season, scoring 156 runs in eight innings for Kent, but he at least hit a couple of fifties in his most recent first-class match.
The 24-year-old was hailed as one of the most exciting batting prospects in the world when he scored a brilliant double century against Pakistan two summers ago, but Crawley has only passed 50 three times in 26 innings since.
Lees made four starts in six innings in his first Test series against West Indies but failed to make a substantial score, although he deserves his place in the England team after impressing in the County Championship with two hundreds and two half-centuries.
It will be interesting to see how Ollie Pope fares at number three – the Surrey star did not play in the Caribbean after being dropped during the Ashes series, but has looked back to his best for his county in recent weeks – while Root, unburdened by the weight of captaincy, is in a good place to maintain his brilliant form.
England’s biggest selection decision will be whether to play Jonny Bairstow or Harry Brooks at number five. Bairstow has scored two hundreds in his last four Tests but his focus has been on white-ball cricket and the IPL, while Brooks has been churning out the runs for Yorkshire, making three centuries and six fifties this season.
New captain Stokes has confirmed he will drop down to six while wicketkeeper Ben Foakes will slot in at seven, unless England decide to give Bairstow the gloves. Foakes was not at his best against West Indies but averages almost 100 this summer and deserves to be handed a home debut.
The decision to recall James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who were both omitted from the West Indies tour, was well received and both look set to play at Lord’s as they approach the age of 40 and 36 respectively.
England resisted the temptation to call up leg-spinner Matt Parkinson so Jack Leach will get another chance to impress, along with Craig Overton or Matthew Potts.
Ben Stokes, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Foakes, Jack Leach, Alex Lees, Craig Overton, Matthew Potts, Ollie Pope, Joe Root
The Kiwis warmed up for last summer’s World Test Championship final by inflicting a first home series defeat on England since 2014.
The 1-0 series win was New Zealand’s first success on these shores in 22 years and they will be optimistic of repeating the trick this time around despite somewhat struggling since becoming red-ball champions.
New Zealand endured a surprisingly poor home summer, losing in India and failing to beat Bangladesh and South Africa at home.
The World Test Championship win felt like the end of a cycle and the retirements of Ross Taylor and BJ Watling – two rocks in the middle order – point to a team going through a period of transition.
While it is not unusual for teams to begin Test series undercooked, New Zealand’s preparations have been particularly poor, with the first two days of their warm-up match against Sussex washed out and a County Select XI securing a surprise win over the Black Caps at Chelmsford.
With some players joining the camp late due to the IPL and others going down with Covid-19, New Zealand will be hard pushed to hit the ground running at Lord’s come Thursday morning.
To make matters worse for the tourists, captain and star batter Williamson is going through one of the worst runs of his career. The 31-year-old endured a dismal run at the IPL, scoring one fifty in 13 innings at a strike-rate of less than 100, while he nicked off for a duck against the County Select XI last week.
Williamson’s record in England – he averages 33 here compared to 54 elsewhere – may also provoke concern, although he will be supported by quality top-order players in Tom Latham and Devon Conway, who have both enjoyed success against England.
All-rounders Daryl Mitchell and Colin de Grandhomme will look to contribute runs and wickets in the middle order while New Zealand have an embarrassment of riches in the bowling department.
Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Kyle Jamieson, Neil Wagner and Matt Henry are all classy operators, although New Zealand are expected to be without Boult at Lord’s due to his late arrival to England from the IPL.
New Zealand squad
Kane Williamson, Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Devon Conway, Colin de Grandhomme, Cam Fletcher, Matt Henry, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Daryl Mitchell, Henry Nicholls, Ajaz Patel, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Will Young, Michael Bracewell
Series score: England 1-1 New Zealand
Top run-scorer: Joe Root (England)
Top wicket-taker: Matt Henry (New Zealand)
England v New Zealand odds
New Zealand: 17/10
(Odds courtesy of Betfair)
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