England v New Zealand: Battle for Ashes place as Kevin Pietersen hovers in the wings
England team in 'bat-out' as second Test approaches
There will be a sense of relief all round when the first Test series is done. England, 1-0 ahead against New Zealand with one to play after the remarkable win at Lord's, may then be able to concentrate on the rest of the summer and you know what.
While the small matter of the Champions Trophy next month may interfere a little, that is a self-contained event and a different form of the game. But for as long as this series lasts it will never be allowed to tootle along on its own merits.
The you know what, of course, is the Ashes, otherwise known as the A word. England may be trying hard not to talk about it – they insist it has not been banned – but it is certain that they cannot stop thinking about it. With every ball that is bowled the spotlight is falling on those who are in the side now who may not make the team to play against Australia.
With the second Test against New Zealand beginning tomorrow, Alastair Cook, the England captain, said: "Anyone would want to play in an Ashes series. We've got to make it quite clear the word has not been banned in the changing room, it's just very important as a sports team, and us as cricketers, that you stay in the present; that's how you have to live your life.
"We know what's coming up in the summer, we know how exciting it is to play in an Ashes series, but that's when that comes. We have to focus on this game and these five days now, that's the way you have to operate so that's the way we're going to operate."
Still, every single player will mutter something along the lines of "Phew, thank heavens that's over" when the match finishes on Tuesday. England, at least, must be slightly less apprehensive than they looked for most of the match at Lord's where they played with all the relaxation of expectant fathers.
The victory will have reinforced their belief in the nick of time. Had New Zealand continued to be an irritant which simply refused to go away, then it would have been difficult to be optimistic about proceedings at Headingley. As it is, the psychological edge shifted in a little under two hours before and after lunch last Sunday.
Concerns about England's batting remain. It would benefit individuals, and the batting order as a whole, if they could accrue a total at Headingley which is rather more than adequate. Cook is aware that runs have been in too short supply of late.
"Clearly the batting line-up has changed from the time a couple of years ago when it was very settled," he said. "There was a lot of experience there with Colly and Straussy, and we were getting slightly more scores than we have done recently.
"But there has been a slight changing of the guard, with young guys coming in, taking their time to find their feet at international level. But they're quality players, I have got no doubt about their ability at all."
Maybe not, but with England's next Test being the first of the Ashes this match takes on an extra significance for some players. Something will clearly have to give, someone will have to make way because Kevin Pietersen should be fit to return by then.
"If any batter scores runs it's very hard to leave him out, that's how selection works," Cook said. "I think we all know when, hopefully, Kevin comes back and he's fit, his record and his class demands that he plays for England pretty much. So, of course, that creates competition for places and the guys in the changing room will be desperate to score runs."
Nick Compton, Cook's opening partner, may be vulnerable and, though he is as anxious to play against Australia as England are anxious for him to make an unanswerable case for selection, everyone knows Joe Root is waiting. Cook conceded that Root would open for England one day but insisted that Compton fully justified his selection. Jonny Bairstow is the other batsman under most immediate scrutiny. It is not quite a bat-out but it is not far away.
England will almost certainly be unchanged while New Zealand will have two changes from the side which collapsed so discouragingly at Lord's last Sunday to be 68 all out. It was decided this morning that the veteran left arm spinner Daniel Vettori will not play.
The tourists' captain, Brendon McCullum, said he had not "scrubbed up" well enough to play. Having been badly affected by injuries in the last two years – when one is cleared up another one seems to occur – it must be doubtful if Vettori ever adds to his 111 Test appearances for New Zealand.
They were extremely keen for him to play at Headingley, scene of their first Test victory in England 30 years ago, and his experience will be missed.
As it is, the fast bowler Doug Bracewell will come in, meaning an attack of four seamers. With wicketkeeper BJ Watling missing with a knee injury, McCullum will take the gloves and move to seven in the order with Martin Guptill batting at number six. The feeling is that England should start to be able to look forward to the Ashes next week with a 2-0 win to their name.
Second Test Headingley details
England (probable): 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, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
New Zealand (probable): P G Fulton, H D Rutherford, K S Williamson, L R P L Taylor, D G Brownlie, M J Guptill, B B McCullum (capt/wkt), T G Southee, N Wagner, D J Bracewell, T A Boult.
Television Sky Sports 1, 10.30am-7pm. Highlights Channel 5, 7-8pm.
Umpires Steve Davis (Aus) and Marais Erasmus (SA).
Pitch report Overcast conditions should encourage bowlers although Headingley has offered a lot of Championship runs to Yorkshire this season. Pitch looks dry.
Weather Cloudy and cold with threat of rain today and on Monday. Max temp: 10C.
Odds England to win 8-13; NZ to win 10-1 Draw 7-4
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