All-round strength gives New Zealand competitive edge

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The Independent Online

New Zealand's team for the first Test at Lord's, which was announced yesterday afternoon, does not contain any of the biggest names in cricket. Chris Cairns, the 33-year-old all-rounder from Canterbury, is their most high-profile player and he is due to retire from Test cricket at the end of this series.

New Zealand's team for the first Test at Lord's, which was announced yesterday afternoon, does not contain any of the biggest names in cricket. Chris Cairns, the 33-year-old all-rounder from Canterbury, is their most high-profile player and he is due to retire from Test cricket at the end of this series.

It would be easy for England supporters to think that this three-Test series offers a wonderful and straight-forward opportunity to build on their 3-0 win in the Caribbean. Wrong. New Zealand's starting XI is one of the most competitive teams in international cricket and England will have to play as well as they did in the West Indies to beat them.

Shane Bond's failure to prove his fitness is a blow but the Kiwis will accommodate the loss of their leading strike bowler far more easily than England woiuld the asbence of their captain, Michael Vaughan, whose presence in the match is threatened by a knee injury.

In Stephen Fleming, New Zealand possess a captain who is regarded by many as the best in international cricket. The 31-year-old is intelligent, imaginative and organised. He gets the balance just right between being captain and being one of the boys. He has a relatively laid-back approach to leadership but there is also a steely, determined and ruthless streak in him.

His man-management skills are excellent and he remains calm and in control when under pressure. In the Caribbean England's preparation and discipline stood out when compared to that of the West Indies, but during the coming weeks they will not be able to claim such an advantage over their opponents.

Under the guidance of Fleming and John Bracewell, the New Zealand coach, this touring side will be as well prepared as any team to have visited England. They will have plans for all of England's players and each of their own will be told what is expected of them.

It is one thing to know what to do, wuite another to be able to do it but Fleming is lucky to have several talented cricketers at his disposal. The poor form of Michael Papps has encouraged Fleming to open the batting in this Test match when he has spent most of his 82-match career batting at three or four.

This decision is not based solely on the inadequacies of Papps because Fleming's promotion allows New Zealand to play five front-line bowlers without weakening their batting. In Mark Richardson, Scott Styris, Craig McMillan and Jacob Oram the Black Caps have four players with Test batting averages of over 40 while the remaining members of their top eight each average 34 or over.

Even in the absence of Bond it has been New Zealand's fast bowling which has brought them success in recent series. Daryl Tuffey is currently rated the 10th best bowler in the world and in Cairns, Chris Martin and Oram they have three seamers who are capable of putting in match-winning performances.

Martin has struggled to adjust to conditions in England but he took 18 wickets in New Zealand's final two Test matches against South Africa earlier this year. In Daniel Vettori the Kiwis also possess the best orthodox finger spinner in the game. A career average of 37.8 is hardly impressive but he is likely to play a more significant role in the series than Ashley Giles.

NEW ZEALAND: S P Fleming, M H Richardson, N J Astle, S B Styris, C L Cairns, B B McCullum, C D McMillan, J D P Oram, D L Vettori, D R Tuffey, C S Martin.

KEY KIWIS FOUR CRUCIAL PLAYERS FOR TOURISTS

NATHAN ASTLE

The Kiwis possess several players with higher Test averages but the diminutive right-hander remains their most dangerous batsman. England's players, and in particular Andrew Caddick, who was smashed for 38 runs in seven deliveries, will not forget his 153-ball double century at Christchurch, still the fastest in Test cricket.

CHRIS CAIRNS

New Zealand's second greatest all-rounder - after Richard Hadlee - will want to go out on a high note when he retires from this form of the game after the series. At his best the 33-year-old is one of the most dangerous cricketers in the world. His aggressive swing bowling and powerful stroke-play can quickly change the course of any match.

DARYL TUFFEY

There was a time when Tuffey was regarded as no more than a medium pacer who would only be effective on damp, green seaming wickets. This changed when England played the Kiwis in March 2002. Since then the Maori has taken 44 wickets at an average of 23.81. His nagging, on the spot, bowling deserves the utmost respect.

MARK RICHARDSON

At 29, Richardson was a late-comer to Test cricket, but since his debut in 2000 he has proved to be one of the most effective opening batsmen in the world. In 31 Test matches he has given the Black Caps greater solidity at the top of the order than they used to enjoy. Currently he averages more than 46.

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