England bite should be too sharp for Kiwi pussycats
On no account should New Zealand be underestimated at home. They treat every ball as crucial, they are dogged and sometimes spectacular with the bat, relentless in the field and willing to improvise with the ball.
The discord created by the clumsy sacking of Ross Taylor as captain and his replacement by Brendon McCullum may perversely have strengthened them. Both men have points to make which they did thrillingly in Napier on Wednesday night.
In addition, they confirmed they are nobody's patsies by beating South Africa away from home only last month. As always, it seems to be the case they have enough special players to make a real difference and the whole usually adds up to a greater sum than the parts. With those qualifications out of the way, England should still win this one-day series in Auckland tomorrow. The Black Caps cricket team is about as far removed from the All Blacks rugby team as a domestic moggy from a sabre-toothed tiger.
England appear to have finally adapted to the new one-day international regulations which, at the simplest, have come to demand preservation of wickets at the front of an innings to ensure a sustained assault at the back. It is a delicate trick to pull off because it is easy to fall into the trap of being too inactive early on.
The ideal innings, of course, would contain a big hitting first 10 overs with the big bash at the end. It is certain that sides seem to be holding their breath waiting for events after the 35th over.
Perhaps the significant difference between the sides is the frontline bowling. In Jimmy Anderson and Steve Finn, the tourists have a pair of fast bowlers who have induced passivity and a little fear in their opponents. A slow start can be an irrevocable impediment to a ferocious conclusion, no matter what damage McCullum can inflict in a matter of 10 or 15 overs.
This hands England an advantage because New Zealand's gallant seamers are neither as skilful as Anderson nor as accurately quick as Finn. The tourists' batsmen are happier on these pitches than they are in Asia where they have spent the bulk of their touring time lately.
That Auckland is of the drop-in variety should not make that much difference since it was still nurtured on these shores – though Jonathan Trott, the England N0 3, made the point that shots hit into the ground were nullified by the lack of pitches alongside, which there would be on a normal square.
"With players like me hitting it square the ball sticks in the ground, whereas New Zealand hit it in the air a lot of the time," he said.
"If you hit it into the ground where another pitch has been it normally bounces and runs away but here it sticks a bit and you're not getting value for your shots."
It is a small but important point, though, as it happens, England hit 15 sixes in the Twenty20 match between the sides at Auckland earlier this month. Maybe Trott will have to hit in the air a bit more. His only sixes for England came at Cardiff where the square boundaries are short, as opposed to Eden Gardens where the straight ones take a mere chip to clear.
This will already have McCullum salivating. Although he is a threat in any limited-overs game and containment is out of the question, England will have formed several ideas of where he can be dismissed.
England look more content than for years about their run-scoring prowess through the order. Although they were hapless in Hamilton last Sunday in the first match, they have genuine belief in their ability to keep wickets in hand and the board ticking over before launching as assault at the end with the power and innovation to do so.
The ground fielding of both sides has been a tribute to their fitness and athleticism, though England had better watch the overuse of Jonny Bairstow, who is not in the team but seems to be rarely off the field. It is one to understand regulations, another to play them to the hilt.
England will be on course for much greater things if they can win.
New Zealand B J Watling, H Rutherford, K Williamson, R Taylor, G Elliott, B McCullum (capt; wk), J Franklin, N McCullum, T Southee, K Mills, T Boult.
England A N Cook (capt), I R Bell, I J L Trott, J E Root, E J G Morgan, J C Buttler (wk), C R Woakes, S C J Broad, G P Swann, S T Finn, J M Anderson.
Umpires S Ravi (India) & C Gaffaney (NZ).
TV umpire R Tucker (Aus).
Television Sky Sports 1, coverage begins at 12.30am Saturday morning.
Odds New Zealand 8/15 England 6/4
Weather Warm and sunny, becoming overcast later. Maximum temperature: 25C.
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