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Why the England vs New Zealand Tests are more than just warm-up for WTC final

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New Zealand will take on England before the WTC final


Why the England vs New Zealand Tests are more than just warm-up for WTC final

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Harshit Anand


7,500 spectators, the mecca of cricket Lord's, the return of red-ball cricket, two quality sides, and the fans of the beloved sport just can't keep calm, anticipating the ringing of the bell and the blockbuster English summer to get underway from June 2 in London.

Oh yes. Test cricket, you beauty. It knows a thing or two when it's needed to rescue the fans from calamity. With the 2021 IPL getting suspended, and the fans getting deprived of top-tier cricket, the anticipation of the upcoming Tests just couldn't have gotten bigger. With each and every passing hour, and day, the excitement is soaring.  After all, it's a big, blockbuster summer coming up in England that can define some significant things. But many believe that this series will be nothing more than a warm-up for New Zealand ahead of the WTC finale. If you, yes you reading this piece, also think so, get ready to watch the series with a brand new perception as we will discuss some pretty engrossing things to look forward to in the series, which is set to make it a riveting watch.

Intriguing battle between two of the world's best seam-attacks

The most fascinating part about cricket is the various sub-plots that the game offers. England and New Zealand are two countries that have somewhat similar conditions - in terms of movement off the pitch. And that brings us to the mouth-licking spectacle of watching New Zealand's Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Kyle Jamieson (unfortunately minus Trent Boult) take on England's James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, and a few young pacers, that will ignite fire on the 22 yards. And don't forget the cherry on the cake - the Duke balls. So, seam-friendly conditions, world-class bowlers, the Dukes balls, and each and every batsman's technique, temperament, perseverance will be put to stern test.

After witnessing the plundering of bowlers in white-ball cricket for a while, the sight of bowlers getting back into play will be nothing short of remarkable. Especially, the experienced pacers, from both the sides, will by vying hard to prove their supremacy over each other. Not to forget, since the start of 2018, New Zealand (27.81) and England (28.15) are hardly separable in terms of bowling average, and only Indian bowlers boast a better average in world cricket than them, if we take a minimum of 10 Tests into consideration. Last time when both these sides met in England, they had to share honours with a drawn series, but don't be surprised if the bowling attack of either of the sides landed a knock-out punch on the opposition this time.

A chance for India to do some scouting

Last time when India and New Zealand locked horns, it resulted in whitewashing of the former, as they were clueless on some green wickets. And when these two sides clashed in England, it was even more heartbreaking as the Black Caps had kicked-out the Men in Blue from the World Cup, shattering the hopes of a billion or more. It has been rightly said, "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer". And going into the war (figuratively), which is going to be the World Test Championship finale, one of the greatest moments in the history of both the country’s cricket journey, with no one wanting to give an inch to each other, and letting any weakness to slip away, Team India won't get a better chance to strategize, assess, and get a complete idea about the Black Caps, than by witnessing them in the two-match Test series against England. 

 © Getty

It will also help the viewers at large to analyze the Kiwi side and what one can expect from them in Tests in England. The Kane Williamson-led side last played a Test in England, way back in 2015. Besides, it will present New Zealand with the golden opportunity of winning their first ever Test series in England since 1999. In fact, they have a lot to prove away from home as in the last one decade, they have just won a solitary Test series in UAE, if we exclude Zimbabwe and West Indies triumphs. In fact, New Zealand's (0.500) W/L ratio is only better than West Indies (0.357) and Bangladesh (0.105) in world cricket, if we take a minimum of 20 Tests into account. They have a point to prove in this series, when the world will be closely following them.

Kane Williamson needs to prove himself 

Okay, before each and every one of you reading this start on hating me, I will unveil my ace, without wasting any time. In the World Test Championship, Kane Williamson's away average takes a drastic fall to 11.57 from 105.14 at home. Surprised? Well, don’t be. This isn't just about the World Test Championship, but in the last five years, his numbers have taken a dip away from home. At home, he contributes 18.9% of New Zealand's runs, which falls down to 17.2% away. But, there's a catch. If we filter it to the top five nations in the world - India, Australia, England and South Africa - his contribution falls to 13.9%. Let's take a look at how Kane Williamson compares against Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Joe Root when it comes to home and away displays against top-five nations in the last five years:

As we can see from the table, only Steven Smith and Joe Root show a positive deviation. However, that's not the case with Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson. But Virat Kohli's away average against top-nations still remains respectable, unlike Kane Williamson, who has performed way under-par. It's been a case of Kane Williamson not turning up against the bigger nations. And his performances against England are no exception as one can make out from the below chart:

If New Zealand have to start winning away, the captain needs to lead from the front. The Kiwis are over-reliant on Kane Williamson. Given his technique, temperament and skills, he needs to pack a punch when the team needs it the most. And even realistically speaking, New Zealand's chances of winning a series in England will decrease manifolds if he doesn't come good. It's high-time that Kane shows the world that he can score when it matters the most.

Will England be tempted to pick the side thinking of Ashes?

There is nothing bigger than the Ashes for both Australia and England, no matter even if their rivalry has gone down a notch with time, given the rich history between both the countries. And when it's the Ashes year, the preparation for it commences months and series’ before. So that begs the question whether the English side will pick their team in a way that it benefits them to ascertain the composition for the Ashes or will they pick the side as per the conditions? Now, one thing is pretty clear. Despite the horrendous show in India, there isn't much room in the batting line-up, with the lone exception of James Bracey entering the picture in absence of Ben Foakes. But when it comes to bowling, in absence of several star bowlers, barring James Anderson and Stuart Broad, no one else looks like a sure-shot starter. And that leaves room for two more bowlers.

So two of Olly Stone, Mark Wood, Craig Overton, Ollie Robinson, and Jack Leach are likely to make the cut for the first Test. There’s a likelihood that England may go for an all-pace attack at the Lord's. Mark Wood might not be having the best of County season, or he might not be the most suitable for the conditions, but if England are considering him for the Ashes - a very likely possibility given he has the X-factor of raw pace - there's a good chance that he might be tried. And one of Craig Overton and Ollie Robinson also have a chance of slotting in, given both add value in two departments, and are well-suited for Lord’s Test. Or even both can play, given the team will already be missing Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran, and their multidimensional skills. Last summer, when Wood was picked, it created a furore. Let's wait on England's approach this time, because it’s likely to make a few heads turn. 

The much awaited Devon Conway debut 

If you haven't heard much or thinking what a white-ball pro like Devon Conway is going to do in challenging Test conditions against the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, then brace yourself for a shocking surprise, as there are high possibilities of this southpaw turning into New Zealand's shining armour. Well, in what has been a short career thus far, he has been a show-stealer, and a talent like none other, at least in New Zealand cricket, in a long time. Notably, the 29-year-old had even got a central contract in the country before playing internationals, so he's just not another run-of-the-mill player. 

Conway after making fifty in the warm-up game © Twitter

No wonder there's so much hype around the debut of this South Africa-born Kiwi batter. With a half-century in the Intra-squad warm-up game, he has made his debut imminent. He is likely to open the batting alongside Tom Latham. Having played at No.3 for most part of his first-class career, it won't be a surprise if he takes the role like a fish to water. After not having put any wrong foot forward in his short New Zealand career, we just can't wait to see the southpaw in action, and given his mental prowess, which has defined his journey, he can pull off something special in the most Devon Conway-esque manner.

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