England keen to reassert the status quo in New Zealand
All those so-called expert predictions about Old Albion trampling all over the Kiwi colonials are looking pretty hollow now. So here we go again. England, without being cocky, arrogant or complacent, should defeat New Zealand by some distance in the second Test which begins at the Basin Reserve tomorrow.
It is nothing to do with the world rankings which have it about right, placing the tourists in second place and their opponents in eighth, frankly just above the relegation spots. It is most definitely to do with the gap in the standards that the sides have set in the past few years.
True, sport is constantly about closing gaps and raising standards but one Test does not a championship outfit make. If England bring their most incisive cricket to the match, which they ought to do after turning up with their most shambolic in Dunedin, they should be too strong for their opponents over five days on a pitch likely to be faster than the ridiculously polite surface on South Island last week.
Matt Prior, England's new vice-captain, still seemed perplexed by the woeful first-day batting which necessitated a long rearguard action to save the match. It was the first time for eight years that England had faced (or needed to face) more than 1000 balls in their second innings.
"That first innings was the worst I've ever been involved in," he said of England's 167 all out on a pitch where 450 might have been slightly under par. "It was horrendous and we're all honest and big enough to put our hands up and say we can't keep on playing like that. You can't put your team in that position and get away with it too often.
"What it does remind us is that you just cannot get complacent and take anything for granted. You have to earn the right to score runs and that's a good lesson to take going into the rest of this series and the future."
The future in this case starts today. It is impossible to think that they will bat as absent-mindedly as they did. England have been dismissed for under 200 in each of the opening Tests in their last four overseas tours, but on the previous three occasions they have followed it up in the second Test with totals of 327, 460 and 413. Their success at the Basin Reserve has been limited. Of the 10 Tests that England have played at New Zealand's best Test cricket ground going back to 1930, they have won four. But then New Zealand have prevailed in only one.
The pitch is likely to be quicker than that in Dunedin and therefore more sporting, which it jolly well needs to be. Both teams will be unchanged barring last-minute injuries. England claim to be unworried about Kevin Pietersen's right knee which caused him to be absent from the field for periods last week.
Although Pietersen's knee was heavily strapped, he was running about like a spring chicken during fielding practice. It is difficult to check with the player himself as he is still not speaking to the press. His reintegration apparently applies only to his colleagues and not to the media of any hue.
Second Test: Wellington details
New Zealand B B McCullum (capt), P G Fulton, H D Rutherford, K S Williamson, L R P L Taylor, D G Brownlie, B-J Watling (wk), N Wagner, T G Southee, T A Boult, B Martin.
England A N Cook (capt), N R D Compton, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, J E Root, M J Prior (wk), S C J Broad, S T Finn, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.
TV Sky Sports 1 HD, 9pm-5am. Start of play: 9.30pm.
Weather Staying warm and sunny for most of the day. Max temp: 21C.
Umpires R Tucker (Aus) and A Rauf (Pak)
Pitch report Likely to have some carry in it and will be more lively than the surface for the first Test, which should favour England's bowlers.
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