50-over format should see Kiwis at their toughest
England travelled to New Zealand with a determination to win all three series in all three formats of the international game.
The first, the T20 was completed on Friday with a resounding win in Hamilton. The Test matches start in March and should be a formality, at least according to the form book and a comparison of the two squads.
The most difficult seemed to be the three-match one-day series, which starts today. New Zealand are a very competitive 50-over team, recently defeating South Africa, and England have paid them all due respect by summoning Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott and James Anderson back to the squad, albeit Kevin Pietersen takes his turn for a break. The returnees have all enjoyed a good rest but, with no cricket before the series starts, may well be rusty. If England are to win they will need to find their rhythm quickly.
Another reason for their collective return is the conditions. England host the final Champions Trophy this coming summer and New Zealand is as good a preparation as is possible around the world. Both have a damp climate and plenty of greenery. Anderson in particular will feel as if he is trundling in at Old Trafford or Cardiff. The ball will swing and batsmen will need to be wary, at least at the beginning of an innings and concentrate on building a total rather than just swinging from the hip. This style of cricket actually suits England. It means they can attack with the seamers, Anderson and Steven Finn. Then Swann, pictured, can twirl away for his ten overs. Stuart Broad showed glimpses of his old form and menace last week so the question is who is the fifth bowler? Chris Woakes and James Harris are the back-up seamers and Samit Patel and James Tredwell the spinners. Interestingly, it might be that Joe Root, so impressive since his debut, could be asked to bowl a few more overs of off-spin. There are options for England but Ashley Giles, the manager, and captain Alastair Cook need to settle on a structure and style and trust the players to deliver it.
The one area that everyone hopes can be settled by good performances is wicketkeeper. Jos Buttler has excelled in the T20. His ability to hit in a 360-degree arc is invaluable and bowlers are never sure if he is going to dink them behind square with finesse or launch them over the boundary with power. His batting could, indeed should, be a great asset. What needs to improve is his glove-work. Currently he is a serviceable keeper, especially in the 20-over thrash but 50-over cricket, with the potential of plenty of spin, needs a proper keeper. He has ability but the man he has replaced, Craig Kieswetter, keeps for Somerset and therefore, if Buttler is to develop, he will need to move county, something that he and others have already mooted.
One who should be considered unfortunate to not be in the squad is Alex Hales. His power in the T20 was very impressive and he has a good range of strokes. England are in a good position with so many good players on the fringes. With no Pietersen the pressure is on Eoin Morgan, Jonny Bairstow and Buttler to provide the pyrotechnics.
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