About 20 minutes away from the Bay Oval in Tauranga, the scene of the first Test between New Zealand and England, lives Trent Boult. A left-arm swing bowler with an experience of 78 Tests and 317 wickets in his kitty would have created enough jeopardy to keep any visiting side on guard, let alone one that last won a Test on these shores in 2008. But Boult, 33, is a T20 freelancer now and New Zealand have passed up the opportunity to call-up a bowler who turned his back on a central contract last year.
There are more pressing matters in New Zealand right now but in Mount Maunganui, which has thankfully avoided the worst of Cyclone Gabrielle, the spotlight is on the national team’s fast-bowling emergency. At the start of his second assignment as full-time skipper, Tim Southee is set to line up alongside two fast-bowling debutants as he hopes to keep a battering ram of a batting line-up at bay. It’s not the most reassuring of starts for New Zealand, who haven’t lost a home Test series for five years now.
England on the other hand are still enjoying the new captain – new coach – new philosophy bounce that has yielded nine Test wins from 10 games played, including a very memorable away series victory in Pakistan. If there’s one challenge that the Stokes-McCullum combine has yet to encounter, then it is the one posed by the pink ball. Novel while it may no longer be, the pink-ball does bring some balance to the narrative. A bit of unpredictability is not the worst piece of news for New Zealand. In the last Day-Night Test between these two sides in this country, England were bundled out for 58 in Auckland.
Much water has flown under that bridge. Stokes, who has since achieved all manner of success in the sport, has now dedicated his tenure towards building better careers for his teammates. “I’ve played a lot of cricket and done some great things with some great teams over the years. Being captain, I’ve got a real desire to make the best out of the team I’ve got here and the players who will come in in the future,” he said. “That’s one of my goals as England captain: to hopefully let some of these guys in the dressing room here just have an amazing career. If I can influence that in any way shape or form, then I’ll be happy.”
It’s the start of a very important period in the Stokes era. These two Tests may not account for WTC points but they will help sustain momentum building up to the summer when Australia will come calling for the all-important Ashes series. A drought-ending series win in New Zealand will definitely reverberate across the Tasman sea.
When:New Zealand vs England, 1st Test, February 16-20, 2023, 14:00 Local, 06:30 IST
Where: Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui
What to expect:Mount Maunganui somehow escaped the worst of the storm and the drainage system at the Bay Oval ground appears to have coped well with the deluge. The opening day of the Test might still be affected by scattered thunderstorms but the other four days are forecast to face no interruptions from the rains. Mount Maunganui can be among the better surfaces to bat in New Zealand as evidenced by Bangladesh’s efforts last year when they won a historic Test match here. It remains to be seen if the pink ball and the D/N Test triggers a change to the natural order.
With Kyle Jamieson out with a stress fracture and Matt Henry awaiting the birth of his child, New Zealand will have two fast-bowling debutants. One of them, the management has confirmed, will be Blair Tickner. They will toss up between Scott Kuggeleijn and Jacob Duffy for the other slot. Michael Bracewell will be the lone spinner in a 4-1 bowling combination.
Probable XI: Tom Latham, Devon Conway, Kane Williamson, Henry Nicholls, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Blundell (wk), Michael Bracewell, Tim Southee (c), Blair Tickner, Scott Kuggeleijn/Jacob Duffy, Neil Wagner
Stuart Broad will return to the Test side for the first time since September, ECB confirmed while announcing their line-up for the game on the eve of the fixture. He’ll be part of a five-prong bowling attack featuring James Anderson, Ollie Robinson, Jack Leach and Stokes as the seam-bowling all-rounder. The top-seven that played the final Test in Pakistan picks itself once more.
Playing XI: Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Harry Brook, Ben Stokes (c), Ben Foakes (wk), Ollie Robinson, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach, James Anderson
Did you know?
– Kane Williamson needs 39 runs to overhaul Ross Taylor’s tally of 7683 runs to become New Zealand’s leading run-scorer in Test cricket.
– This is the first time Ben Stokes will be captaining in the country of his birth.
– This is the fourth series between these sides since the inception of the WTC. Three of those, including this one, haven’t counted for WTC points.
What they said:
“Watching test matches in New Zealand in the past, I don’t think you can look too much into the wickets here when they’re green like that. The two-day practice game we played [last week in Hamilton], the wicket was very green, had a lot of grass on it, and it played very very true. So I don’t know how much effect it’ll have really – I just hope I lose the toss.” – Ben Stokes
“He’s [Boult] made his decision at the end of last year handing back his contract. New Zealand Cricket have made the decision to back the guys who are contracted and playing domestic cricket here.” – Tim Southee