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England looking to rebuild against Black Caps

By Angus Fraser

In its infinite wisdom the England and Wales Cricket Board will begin promoting the 2009 Ashes today by launching a logo for the series and a video teasing the Australian side on its National day. The event coincides with England departing for an eight-week tour of New Zealand, where they will play two Twenty20 internationals, five one-dayers and three Tests.

The release is all well and good, in that it keeps an important sponsor happy, but it conveniently ignores the fact that England were walloped 5-0 in the last Ashes series, and that several members of the touring squad that sets off for New Zealand will not be playing in 2009 unless the pull their fingers out over the coming weeks.

The trip starts with Paul Collingwood as captain and the feisty all-rounder will want his limited over side to continue the encouraging form it has produced since he took charge. England’s limited over squad contains a handful of Test regulars and 11 players desperate to establish themselves in the Test side. New Zealand are more competent in one-day than Test cricket but the energy this group produces should be enough to see them gain further success.

Once the coloured clothing has been put away Michael Vaughan will take control for what promises to be a very important Test series for him. Vaughan and England are in desperate need of a series victory, having won just two of their eight post-2005 Ashes series. Failure to defeat a bedraggled New Zealand Test side would place Vaughan’s position as captain in jeopardy, along with the Test careers of several of England’s more experienced players.

Big performances are needed from Stephen Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, James Anderson, Andrew Strauss and Collingwood, if he is to be seriously considered for Vaughan’s position in the future. The pitches in New Zealand should offer England’s fast bowlers assistance, conditions that Harmison, Hoggard and Anderson must exploit if they wish to retain their places in the side.

Strauss looks set to reclaim his place at the top of the order, with Vaughan moving to three and Ian Bell being pushed down to six. A four month rest will have helped Strauss but he too needs to perform. If these players fail to produce match-winning displays the selectors will be encouraged to introduce younger, fresher players in the summer so that they can gain 12 months and 15 Tests of experience before Australia arrive.

New Zealand are there for the taking. The Black Caps are not a happy bunch. The coach, John Bracewell, is not very popular, the deposed captain, Stephen Fleming is, apparently, counting down the days to his retirement, and in the last 12 months they have lost several senior players. There are fears that more will disappear too, choosing lucrative Twenty20 contracts in India ahead of those offered by the New Zealand Cricket Board.

Shane Bond, the side’s star bowler, is currently in a legal battle with the NZC after agreeing a three year deal with the rebel Indian Cricket League. Initially Bond was told by NZC that his international career would not be threatened if he signing up with ICL, but this changed when the Board of Control for Cricket in India began flexing its muscles. In an attempt to blow the ICL out of the water and promote its own Twenty20 competition, the Indian Premier League, the BCCI has asked other boards to ban players who sign for ICL. The BCCI’s financial clout is persuading other boards to do as they say. Bond is unlikely to play against England.

The changes leave New Zealand with a threadbare side that is yet to find a settled opening combination, whether it be with the bat or ball. Fleming, Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum and Daniel Vettori, the captain, are the spine of a side that will compete hard but England should expect to comfortably win the series.

“It’s the start of a new year and it’s an exciting time,” said Peter Moores, the England coach.