England’s long-awaited return to test cricket falls on the 20th of November.
The tour to New Zealand is England’s first action since the most memorable summer of cricket for over a decade. The five-match T20 series was narrowly won by the visitors. Quite unbelievably, a super over was again needed to separate the sides, meaning New Zealand will surely be tired of cricket’s tiebreaker.
That series saw most of England’s victorious World Cup players rested and gave an opportunity to young players with domestic success. Tom Banton, Matt Parkinson, and Pat Brown showed glimpses of their talents.
The Test team England have picked for the two-match series has a different feel to it too, though this is not through rest and rotation. Firstly, this tour is the first for Chris Silverwood as head coach since he was named replacement for the outgoing Trevor Bayliss.
Silverwood was previously the bowling coach for England and makes the step up knowing his first priority is improving an inconsistent test outfit. He did not waste his words in stating; “England need a batting group that can bat for a long period of time, stack runs up and put pressure on.”
Early signs suggest we can expect a change of approach from England with the bat and notable personnel changes point to that. At the top of the order, Warwickshire’s Dom Sibley will debut alongside former Surrey teammate Rory Burns. Like Burns, Sibley has a unique technique but has been a consistent, patient run-scorer in county cricket and deserves his chance after making the most runs in the 1st division last season.
England hopes this opening partnership, along with Joe Denly moving back down to three, can give some long term solidity to their top order which has been poor for some time.
The Big name to miss out for England is Jonny Bairstow. The wicket-keeper had been an ever-present figure in the side since 2015 but his returns with the bat have fallen away, averaging just 25 in the last two years.
Bairstow’s dropping makes way for Ollie Pope at number six and Jos Buttler to take to gloves as wicket-keeper at number seven. 21-year-old Pope is the standout young player in England and at 59 has the highest first-class average of any Englishman to play over 30 games in history. He will also relish the chance to bed in lower down the order after looking exposed higher up in his previous two test matches.
England will look to familiar faces Broad and Archer to lead the bowling attack with early wickets. Expect Curran to just edge Woakes for the first test, he is a cricketer that seems to make things happen and often swings tight contests.
There is a chance for cult hero Jack Leach to cement his spot in whites. Moeen Ali opted against another red ball contract to allow for more time at home this winter.
Rookie Matt Parkinson is unlikely to play, despite a promising T20 debut so Leach will want to make the most of his prolonged run as first choice by turning matches for England with the ball.
For hosts New Zealand, they need not look far for reasons to be optimistic. They won the last series between the sides 1-0 just a year ago. They are also becoming a solid test outfit with few glaring weaknesses. A batting line up built on strong foundations of Tom Latham, world-class captain Kane Williamson, the experience of Ross Taylor and rising talent Henry Nicholls, will ask tough questions of the England bowling attack.
Trent Boult and Tim Southee will again look to swing the new ball off a full length and are ably supported by the aggression of Neil Wagner. Look out for Lockie Ferguson, the aggressive tearaway who had a fantastic World Cup, and could push Jofra Archer for pace should he make his debut.
Expect an enjoyable contest between these friendly rivals over the next two games, and maybe, just maybe, an England win will kick of Ashes preparations for two years time.