England players facing make or break challenge against New Zealand

Career-defining roles on biggest stage are at stake for Cook's side in two Test series as spectacular Ashes contest looms

Lord's

England begin a cycle of international cricket today which may make or break careers. By its end some people may be on their bike.

The immediate task at hand is to defeat New Zealand and to do that they must avoid at all costs thinking of the challenges beyond.

It is likely that the A-word has been banned in England's dressing room. The Ashes, home and away later this year in case anybody had forgotten, will have to take care of themselves.

Yet each and every player who steps out at Lord's today for the first Test of two against New Zealand, from the captain, Alastair Cook, down will be all too aware of what is at stake, that this is only the start of something special. The scenario is complicated by the fact that New Zealand are a genuine menace.

Three months ago, it seemed a cast-iron certainty that the Kiwis were the ideal guests for the early part of the summer, just about deserving of their Test status but posing no real threat, an old-fashioned, knockabout warm-up act who long ago shed pretensions of star billing. In short, they would provide nothing more than a tough, though sometimes gentle, middle practice.

All that changed in three weeks of highly competitive if not always searingly entertaining cricket in New Zealand last February and March. England had gone there expecting to win the Test series comfortably, a feeling that was reinforced by the vast majority of New Zealanders, who were convinced that their team would be on the wrong end of a thrashing.

It did not work out like that for reasons still unexplained, though England have doubtless spent many of their closed-room sessions since trying to deduce what the deuce happened. As for New Zealand, they have had time to reflect that however well they performed they did not manage to bring home the bacon, or in their case perhaps, the lamb.

England clung on for a drawn series and it is those rearguard actions which give them sustenance now. If New Zealand could not finish the job at home then it might be far too much away.

Cook, on the eve of his first home Test as captain, was in serious mode. It was as if he fully recognised that this summer and autumn – which also include a Champions Trophy at home next month – are as big a deal as cricketers have been involved in. He was careful to avoid talking it all up and in doing that the poor fellow talked it all down.

His counterpart, Brendon McCullum, was much more relaxed and forthcoming. Cook was wary of giving anything away. Had he been asked the colour of his eyes he might have closed them for fear of revealing too much to the opposition. But he was sure the Ashes and all that they mean to England's cricket would not affect the here and now.

"Firstly there's the challenge ahead of us from New Zealand," he said. "They showed in those three Test matches over there they're going to be a very tough side to beat. But also a skill as a sportsman is that you do just stay in the present.

"You don't look too far ahead, you're always worried about your next innings, or your next over if you're a bowler. That is a skill sportsmen have, you stay very much in the present, so I don't think we should be overly worried about it."

Up to a point, Captain Cook. If nothing else, every single player will be aware that poor performances against New Zealand might cost them dear come the Ashes. England already have a team for Australia pencilled in and it is pretty much the one that will play today save for two possible exceptions: Kevin Pietersen will return as a batsman, and the selectors would like nothing more than for Chris Tremlett to be in serious reckoning as a bowler.

That provides extra incentive for all, but particularly perhaps for Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Steve Finn and Stuart Broad. Of course, they want to be there today at Lord's, the greatest ground in the world, but only to prove that they deserve the chance to be there again in July against Australia.

 



Cook, in line with England's peculiar philosophy, said they would pick the best team to win the match. He hinted that this might embrace the omission of the off-spinner, Graeme Swann, but this is distinctly unlikely since the last time they tried that, at Headingley against South Africa last year, it was so patently wrong.

"There's always a chance in these conditions," he said of Swann's possible omission. "We've got options to play with and we'll be looking tomorrow to try to get the best of them. It has crossed our minds."

By the second week of January, England will have played 12 more Test matches, 10 of them against Australia. Some men will have enhanced their reputations, some may have been crushed by events or feel they have reached a natural conclusion.

First, they have to find a way of dealing with New Zealand. Their bowlers have to rediscover their ability to swing the ball and recognise that conventional swing can be as significant as reverse swing.

Their batsmen must pledge themselves unswervingly to building a first-innings total, which they twice badly failed to do two months ago. England are odds-on favourites to win match and series, but that was true then too.

First Test: Lord's details

Probable teams

England A N Cook (capt), N R D Compton, I J L Trott, I R Bell, J E Root, J M Bairstow, M J Prior (wkt), S C J Broad, G P Swann, S T Finn, J M Anderson.

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 (wkt), T G Southee, N Wagner, B P Martin, T A Boult.

Umpires Aleem Dar (Pakistan) & Steve Davis (Australia).

Pitch report

The pitch looks dry and should behave impeccably. It may become better as the game progresses.

Television

Sky Sports 1 live, 10am-7pm. Highlights: Channel 5, 7pm.

Weather

Cool and overcast with sunny intervals. Chance of rain late in the day. Maximum temperature: 14C.

Odds

England to win 8-11 Draw 6-4 New Zealand to win 11-1.

Where the Test may be won

Batting: Ian Bell v Ross Taylor

England's most experienced player will be expected to deliver, while former captain Taylor seeks a positive return after his brief exile.

Bowling: James Anderson v Trent Boult

Anderson was overshadowed by the New Zealand quick and will hope for more of an impact back on home soil.

Captains: Alastair Cook v Brendon McCullum

McCullum hit three fifties earlier this year while Cook has passed fifty once in his last eight innings and needs a return to form.

Sport
football
News
Hillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test