As the first series of the English summer is fast approaching, now is a good as time as any to cast our eyes over both sides.
The hosts are yet again in the midst of a supposed new era. The 12 names for the First Test contain few surprises, although there is a place for Mark Wood amongst the squad. Quick, and with a whippy action, Wood appears to have jumped the queue to become England’s next seam bowler in waiting. I wonder if Liam Plunkett had turned up for Yorkshire’s photo call and made a decent return to the side, whether he would have taken Wood’s place. Either way, I’m delighted to see Wood in the squad, and now I’ve just got my fingers crossed that he makes into the final XI. In all likelihood England will persevere with the same 5-man attack they deployed in the Caribbean. Meaning that Chris Jordan will continue in his role at third seamer, with Stokes providing the all-round back up option. For me, Jordan is simply not Test class yet, possessing neither the pace of movement to trouble high quality batsmen, I would much rather see Wood get the nod, at least he has the pace to trouble even settled batsmen.
Behind the scenes, the KP saga has once again reared its ugly head, and will I’m sure be heard to escape, not matter how riveting the cricket. A subplot to the whole issue, has been the sacking of Peter Moores, with him out of the picture, the role of head coach has fallen to Paul Farbrace for the New Zealand series, with a permanent replacement scheduled to be in place for the start of the Ashes in early July. Farbrace has nothing to lose, and as such I would love to see him make some bold selection calls, namely introducing Wood into the side, and perhaps giving Rashid a call-up at some point.
The tourists have had a somewhat mixed preparation for the Test series. Those of the squad that are actually in the country have had a decent if unspectacular start in matches against Worcestershire and Somerset. BJ Watling has scored some runs, and lesser-known names such as Mitchell Satner have also caught the eye. Runs for Hamish Rutherford at New Road yesterday will also please the Black Caps coaches, as he battles it out with in-form Martin Guptill to partner Tom Latham at the top of the order.
Whilst some of New Zealand’s squad has been preparing in England, many of their star players have been out in India at the IPL. Their skipper Brendon McCullum alongside new ball pairing Tim Southee and Trent Boult, have been training with the Dukes ball whilst in India to prepare for the upcoming Test series. It is far from ideal preparation, but I would imagine both bowlers are mature enough, and certainly their recent form has been good enough, to slot back in without too much trouble.
This looks set to be a closely fought and intriguing Test series between an emerging Test force, and a rebuilding one. The only downside is that this series will only be contested over two Tests. Whilst understandable given England’s ludicrously hectic schedule, it would have been a real treat to see these sides battle it out across 3 or even 4 matches.