The early summer fare may resemble a tasting menu – two Tests against New Zealand, an amuse-bouche of one-dayers against the same opponents, the Champions Trophy – but England's first opponents of the new season arrived in town insisting they are nobody's idea of a light bite.
New Zealand had the better of the drawn Test series two months ago – falling a single wicket short of victory – and will begin preparations for the first Test at Lord's in two weeks with a tour game at Derby on Saturday nurturing hopes of a first series win here for 14 years. The series may only consist of two Tests – a brevity that has not gone down well with the tourists – but England should beware treating them as a warm-up for the Ashes later this summer.
"These are two hugely important matches for us," said Mike Hesson, the New Zealand coach, speaking on the team's first morning in Britain. "We don't want to be the entrée for the main course of the season.
"We always pushed for three Test matches. The guys love playing Test cricket and playing in England is the pinnacle."
England were accused of underestimating their second opponents of the winter. Their much vaunted attack dismissed the home side for below 400 only once in five innings over the course of three Tests. In three innings England failed to take 10 wickets and in the other New Zealand reached 443.
Hesson refused to be drawn on whether there was a feeling within the New Zealand camp that England had been taken by surprise by a Kiwi side that has struggled in Test match cricket over the last year. "England are ranked second in the world and we are eighth," he said in response to suggestions that England had taken their task lightly.
New Zealand's performance against England has been a huge fillip to the Test game there, according to Kane Williamson, who will lead the team until Brendon McCullum arrives from the Indian Premier League next week, and it was a desperately needed one.
A good performance on the field was required not only to meet the simple sporting formula that a team perceived to have a chance of success will always attract more interest – the New Zealand sporting public has been turning its back on the longer form of the game – but also to help move on from the divisions caused by Ross Taylor's ousting as captain. The issue is still bubbling back home, but Williamson claimed that "team culture is really strong at the moment".
That team is currently without Taylor, their best batsman, who is also still in India on IPL duty. The IPL and its financial draw presents an ongoing threat to a country of New Zealand's level and means. Whereas England's players have limited opportunity to take part, the Kiwis give theirs a five-week window in which to compete. It is a compromise, or a "fact of life" as Hesson calls it, and it means their two best players will not arrive in England until next week.
They are both pencilled in to play the last of the two warm-up games, against the England Lions at Leicester. Hesson believes their late arrival is not an issue as it gives New Zealand the chance to field all 15 players in their squad before the first Test, which begins on 16 May. But Hesson also suggested it would take his players "a couple of weeks to adjust" to the conditions expected of an early English summer, the extra movement that usually allows the greater swing of the Dukes ball used in this country. McCullum and Taylor, both key performers with the bat, will have only one match to reset their game plans from the hit-or-bust, batsman-friendly conditions of the IPL to English unpredictably and the rigours of first-class cricket.
Hesson confirmed that Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton would open against Derbyshire and are almost certain to do so in the first Test as well, despite Martin Guptill's return to fitness. The pair came together for the first time for the England series and their success against what Williamson called "one of the best attacks in the world" gave New Zealand long overdue stability at the top of the order. Guptill, who has played 30 Tests, missed the winter series through injury.Reuse content