Brendon McCullum fired up to spark Ashes summer

New Zealand keen to beat England after going so close last winter

derby

All roads lead to the Ashes. Anticipation, always the most significant element in these matters, is at fever pitch. There it will remain, with a mopped brow or two, until Australia roll up at Trent Bridge in July, and may well continue until the last of 10 successive Tests between the oldest international combatants in Sydney next January.

But the journey to all this had to begin somewhere, and so it did yesterday at the County Ground in Derby where brows went resolutely unmopped. It was a reminder, if it were needed, that in this great summer extravaganza of cricket the New Zealanders are also very much with us.

They will play two Test matches and three one-day internationals, bizarrely to be followed weeks later by two Twenty20s. Much too easily overlooked as it is, it would be folly to underestimate these tourists. They have been invited as the curtain-raiser, England should be wary of them stealing the limelight.

Naturally, England could lose to New Zealand, go on to defeat Australia in the home and away series, and all would be forgiven. Australia are part of the English cricketing psyche in a way that no other team has been or will be. Trouble is, of course, that if New Zealand were to win, something that would have been unthinkable at the start of the year, the effect on England's belief might be terminally debilitating.

Brendon McCullum, New Zealand's affable, accomplished captain, said yesterday with a knowing grin when it was put to him that England had to play Australia this summer: "Have they? We can only focus on what we've got in front of us.

"For us, if we can topple England at home we will hold that very fondly for a very long time. What happens later on in the year is of little relevance to us. Our task is these two Test matches and finishing off what is I guess a five-match Test series if you add the three from back home."

New Zealand should have won that home series two months ago. They know it, England know it, the world knows it. Having dominated the first and last matches, they were denied by staunch England rearguard actions, which were as necessary as they were unexpected before the start of the series.

Throughout, England claimed that they did not take New Zealand lightly, but there was a disturbing inability to think on their feet which was compounded by McCullum's constantly innovative, aggressive leadership. New Zealand went into that series immediately after being marmalised by South Africa, the best side in the world, and with controversy still rife about the sacking of Ross Taylor from the captaincy and his replacement by McCullum. Their progress was remarkable.

"I don't think England underestimated us. They probably didn't expect us to play as well as we did," said McCullum, who has given his side an immediate fillip by arriving earlier than expected from his duties in the Indian Premier League.

"Were they complacent? I don't think so. I like to think we put them under a lot of pressure to show some weaknesses in their line-up. I think that had a two-fold effect. It gave us confidence and probably ate away a little bit at the confidence they had when they arrived on our shores.

"Yeah, I thought we deserved to win, but it was one of those things, a gripping series. From where we were at the start of that series, especially after a tough South African tour, to where we sat at the end, I looked around the changing room and guys were absolutely heartbroken by not getting across the line, but there was also an immense amount of pride that we were able to play with the characteristics and, I guess, the personality that we showed on the field too.

"I was incredibly proud of the guys and this tour is a chance for us to finish the job."

New Zealand have lost both their last two Test series here by large margins – 3-0 in 2004, 2-0 in 2008 – and it would be doing this summer of all summers a huge favour if they do offer stronger competition. It would be a boon for the health of Test cricket, which needs all the help it can get wherever it comes from, but it would ensure that cricket itself does not waste this rare opportunity to have the field more or less to itself.

A great South Africa team was unfortunately but understandably overshadowed last summer by the London Olympic Games. This year there are no such distractions at home, the usual summer offerings and a British Lions rugby union tour to Australia apart, and no major football tournament impinging on these delights.

Cricket offers the Champions Trophy, a neat, quick one-day tournament involving the world's best teams to be played over 18 days in June, and that is followed by the Ashes. But it is New Zealand who start things off, who can grab the attention.

They adapted readily yesterday against one of Derbyshire's less imposing attacks, which at no point put anyone in mind of Les Jackson or Mike Hendrick of long ago. But there were wickets for the left-arm fast bowler, Mark Footitt, who at 27 has not quite developed the way it was expected or hoped when he was 18. He again demonstrated the value of left-arm seam bowlers to right- handed batsman. How England would like one. Kane Williamson batted pleasantly, Dean Brownlie acquisitively, B-J Watling determinedly. After declaring at 289 for 5, the tourists looked ready for the fray.

How the summer will unfold

England v New Zealand

16-20 May: First Test, Lord's

24-28 May: Second Test, Headingley

31 May: First ODI, Lord's

2 June: Second ODI, Rose Bowl

5 June: Third ODI, Trent Bridge

25 June: First Twenty20, The Oval

27 June: Second T20, The Oval

Champions Trophy

8 June: England v Australia, Edgbaston

13 June: England v Sri Lanka, The Oval

16 June: England v New Zealand, Cardiff

23 June: Final, Edgbaston

England v Australia

10-14 July: First Test, Trent Bridge

18-22 July: Second Test, Lord's

1-5 Aug: Third Test, Old Trafford

9-13 Aug: Fourth Test, Chester-le-Street

21-15 Aug: Fifth Test, The Oval

29 Aug: First T20, Rose Bowl

31 Aug: Second T20, Chester-le-Street

6 Sept: First ODI, Headingley

8 Sept: Second ODI, Old Trafford

11 Sept: Third ODI, Edgbaston

14 Sept: Fourth ODI, Cardiff

16 Sept: Fifth ODI, Rose Bowl

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Raheem Sterling of Liverpool celebrates scoring the opening goal
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Scandi crush: Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

Th Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn