On Tuesday England set off down a trail that spans fifteen tests in ten months and gives them the chance to wallop antipodean opposition non stop until 2014. ‘Fifteen in a row’ and ‘ten nil’ are utterances restricted to low whispers around 51allout headquarters at the moment but, if all goes to plan, by mid-summer they may reach a booming crescendo. Overconfidence it may be, but what’s the point in winning if you can’t be disgustingly arrogant about it?
The first roadblock/scarcely noticeable bump in the road comes on the mean streets of Dunedin in the shape of New Zealand. England, generally, plunge to new levels of rubbishness whenever they come up against the Black Caps – a tendency they haven’t quite managed to shake off, if the warm-up game is anything to go by – but this time it’s difficult to see them too troubled. Famous last words.
Even accounting for the traditional upping of their game against the British (and associated colonies) big boys, New Zealand aren’t very good. The captaincy clusterwoops has been well documented but still hangs over the side, while Martin Guptill’s absence makes the top order look even more vulnerable than usual. Guptill couldn’t hit the ball off the square in New Zealand’s last Test encounter so the fact he’s such a big miss is a rather damning indictment in itself. On the positive side, Dean Brownlie played well against South Africa and is the sort of fighter they badly need in the middle order. In fact, the middle order doesn’t look too bad, with Brownlie joined by Ross Taylor, Brendan McCullum and Kane Williamson. Although given their spectacular inability to play competent bowling against the Proteas they’ll presumably need Stuart Broad to bowl all the overs from both ends if they are to make any runs.
The bowling attack is either a potent weapon in useful conditions or thoroughly mediocre and lacking any sort of cutting edge, depending on whether you’re a distraught Australian 51allouter praying for a distraction from your own side’s current travails or not. In truth, it looks extremely inexperienced, missing as it is Daniel Vettori and Chris Martin, and now Doug Bracewell as well after a limb/glass kerfuffle of which Jesse Ryder would be proud. An all seam attack looks most likely, given Bruce Martin is such an obscure spin option we’re not entirely sure the New Zealand management themselves would be able to pick him out of a line up, and it’s probably the best way to go. England had plenty of practice against rubbish spinners at the end of last year, after all.
England’s only decision going into this Test, despite what the Joe Root fan club would have you believe, was whether to forgive Broad his sins and slot him back into the side. In all probability he was pencilled in for a recall anyway; once Graham Onions had vomited all over his own bowling figures in the Queenstown practice match Broad’s name was not so much inked in as slapped on the side of the team hotel in flashing neon lights. However they got there, it’s the right decision; despite his comically dreadful second half of 2012, Broad still deserves his place in conditions such as England face over the next year. It’s hard not to feel for Onions but, unfortunately, them’s the breaks. He may yet be needed over the course of this year.
Other than that, and the minor hiccup in Queenstown, England are in good working order. Nick Compton needs runs early in the series to banish the Root-openerists into the long grass and to seal his Ashes place, but everyone else is in form and should have little to fear unless Neil Wagner turns out to be the reincarnation of Fred ‘the Demon’ Spofforth, which seems unlikely.
Is it possible to win a three match series 5-0? We’ll soon find out.