After the weather played a part in saving England’s skins in Dunedin, the tables were turned in Wellington as days four and five were largely washed out and despite being forced to follow on, New Zealand came away with a draw. The series moves to Eden Park for a winner takes all clash which is sure to have the cricketing world enthralled. Or not. At least the weather forecast is better as little or no rain is anticipated. Eden Park is not a good venue for cricket; expect vast swathes of unoccupied concrete and the Barmy Army’s hilarious chants to echo around the cavernous surroundings.
Given that Kane Williamson was New Zealand’s second best bowler in Wellington, it’s likely that the hosts will assess the make-up of their attack which aside from the familiar first day tumble of wickets seen on an England tour, has struggled to make inroads or pose any kind of significant threat. Tim Southee failed to take a wicket in the last game and his ill-considered hoick to a Stuart Broad bouncer was hardly an advert for his batting. Doug Bracewell is fit again after injuring himself at a party so bodacious it could have featured in an 80s teen movie so he may make a comeback at the toothy one’s expense. Bruce Martin has been the best bowler on show for the Kiwis but he may find defending Eden Park’s short straight boundaries more of a challenge. At the top of the order, Peter Fulton looks like a walking wicket but changes are unlikely with alternatives thin on the ground; Tom Latham is the only spare batsman in the squad and his ODI average of under 20 does not indicate a young man ready to make his Test debut. Also having yet another player on the pitch with a father who we can remember playing would make us feel old.
First things first; failed off-spinner Kevin Pietersen is unavailable with knee knack. He’ll miss this game, but more importantly for all fans of whichever IPL team it is he plays for, that tournament too. All of which serves to make last year’s strop about his availability more moot than a particularly fatuous bovine specimen. England could either replace him with Jonny Bairstow, increasing both the ginger quotient of the team as well as making the middle order look extremely callow, or bend to the will of all knee-jerk columnists whenever they’re struggling to bowl teams out and pick a fourth seamer, most likely Chris Woakes to make sure the batting is still sturdy with Graham Onions once again kicking his heels to the sounds of Lily Allen. We suspect that Bairstow will play, firstly as England largely operate on the basis of giving the next player in line a fair go, and secondly because no-one wants to follow Australia’s example and start picking players who aren’t really good enough at batting or bowling as yet to play Test cricket. We wouldn’t want young Mr Woakes to become England’s Moises Henriques. That’s not fair on anyone. Otherwise the team will be unchanged; Stuart Broad looking to build on his success in the Second Test rather than doing his normal trick of having one good innings a series, Steven Finn keen to make an impact after a slightly below-par performance, Monty Panesar in need of a performance to show he can genuinely be the sole spinner in a team, Joe Root to actually get some runs.
As stated, the weather forecast is good, so we shouldn’t see an entire day and more rained off as in the first two games. Brendon McCullum has gone on record to state that New Zealand aren’t playing for draws (we’re not sure who was saying they were, in all honesty) but that would appear to be their best hope here unless England have a Dunedin-esque brainstorm when batting first. If England play anywhere near their capabilities and it stays dry, they should win and win comfortably against game but limited opponents. But we could have told you that weeks ago. Nick Compton to live up to his “new Ravi Bopara” tag by getting a hundred for a third consecutive game. We forget what happened to Ravi after that.