England end their mammoth winter tour with a two-Test series, which begins on Thursday with the first day-night Test in New Zealand at Eden Park Auckland followed by the Second test in Christchurch.
New Zealand won the two Tests against West Indies at the start of the season convincingly and have a tried and tested balance at home. For England, coming off the back of the 4-0 Ashes defeat, there are significantly more issues to tackle. Given the two-Test series is a 50-50 split between the new and traditional(red and pink ball) it could yet require two different approaches.
Chris Woakes said. “We are going into a pink-ball Test which we all haven’t played that much of. It’s not a step into the unknown but things are happening that you don’t expect. It’s only two matches – do you go all out and attack and try to win the first game and make sure you can’t lose the series, or play it as it comes?”
Ben Stokes’ return opens up a few options they could take after the problems they faced in Australia. He is a high-class batsman and fourth quick bowler. Not unexpectedly, England’s balance was off in the Ashes, a problem exacerbated by the struggles of fellow all rounders Woakes and Ali.
If they had both played at the top of their games it’s just possible England could have competed: instead Moeen averaged 19.88 with the bat and 115 with the ball, Woakes 16.28 and 49.50.
Woakes did not complete the series, ruled out by injury in Sydney, but though linking performance in one format to another is fraught with danger, he has since had a stellar time in one-day cricket, capped with the Man of the Series award in New Zealand. Moeen, meanwhile, has bowled nicely although the batting has been less convincing.
It is likely that both Woakes and Moeen will feature in the Test series, meaning England will return to the all rounder-heavy option. England have had a poor run away from home since the South Africa tour in 2015-16: nine defeats, two draws and just one win.
The most adventurous route to take would be to use Stokes at No. 5, although that could be seen as a step too far on his return to the format. The batsman to make way under this scenario would be Vince who survived the axe after an unconvincing Ashes where for every cover drive there was an outside edge not far away.
A new No. 3 would be needed. Root would be the obvious choice – despite his reluctance – although it could be Malan after his stellar Ashes.
The team named for England’s final warm-up suggests the line-up for the First Test will be. Cook Stoneman Vince Root Malan Stokes Bairstow Ali Woakes Broad Anderson
This is the final leg of a long overseas spell for England and a two-Test series as autumn rolls around in New Zealand feels a little tokenistic, but there are enough subplots to keep things interesting. Not least whether England can get back to winning ways abroad.
New Zealand are a tough prospect though. Williamson, Taylor, Boult, Southee form the spine of an experienced and talented side but are without their main spinner Santner.
In the short term, Santner’s absence will mean rejgging New Zealand’s middle order. Against West Indies earlier this season he was batting at No. 6 although Watling’s return after a hip problem offers the option of him filling that position. Colin de Grandhomme could then follow at No. 7, where he scored 185 runs in three innings in the West Indies series, including a maiden century off 71 balls. Also, though Santner’s Test record with the ball of 34 wickets at 37.05 does not leap out, his economy rate of 2.79 has offered Kane Williamson important control.
Tom Astle’s inclusion ahead of Ish Sodhi, who impressed during the one-day series, highlights the loss of Santner’s batting and the impact on New Zealand’s balance. Astle, who has played two Tests in four years, is a far better batsman than Sodhi and could slot in at No. 8 followed by the three frontline quicks – Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner – although there remains the outside chance New Zealand could go pace-heavy for the pink-ball Test at Eden Park and include Matt Henry.
Odds for the first test with Skybet are England 5/4 New Zealand 15/8 and the draw 100/30. In a pink ball test with some batting under lights a draw is unlikely and of the two win options New Zealand re the better value price in what should be a close series.