There are many things to love about Test cricket – Australia being bowled out for 47, Australia being bowled out for 98 and Australia losing every game by an innings to name just three – but its scheduling is emphatically not one of them. The last thing anyone wanted two months after a drab 0-0 draw between two not particularly exciting teams was for those very same sides to do battle again, yet that is how the calendar cookie crumbled.
England always win these early summer series, mainly because they face teams who are both a) massively inferior to them and b) utterly alien to the concept of playing cricket in snow. New Zealand, admittedly, might have more of a chance than most at springing an upset, but that still leaves said chance hovering precariously one rung above ‘nil’ on the chance ladder. Instead of being able to build on their pretty good performance at home, there’s a decent chance all the good work they’ve put in over the past couple of months will be washed away.
Beyond the scheduling shamblostraphe, there’s not even any interesting team news going into the games. England are without their most watchable player and seem to have decided to leap back to 2011 and bore us all to tears as they decide whether Steve Finn or Tim Bresnan should play, presumably basing their policy on the theory that everything was better then. Bresnan is an admirable cricketer in many ways, and supposedly his elusive ‘nip’ has returned thanks to his elbow being sewn back on over the winter, but he is functional rather than thrilling. Finn, for his part, has spent the spring giving various fine leg fielders the runaround with his bowling, so can hardly complain should he miss out. The exciting thing to do would’ve been to pluck someone out of county cricket, like Toby Roland-Jones or Liam Plunkett but, alas, that’s not really England’s style. And picking Test teams based on keeping things interesting probably has one or two flaws.
New Zealand have decided to come over here and give themselves the exact same decision as England; the choice between two fastish bowlers. In fact, they may well just drop poor Bruce Martin and play both Neil Wagner and Doug Bracewell, the latter having recovered from getting really pissed and glassing himself a few months ago. It will be vaguely interesting to see how the Kiwi attack goes in England, given how they comprehensively outbowled their opponents at home. Whether they’ll be able to actually put their hosts in as much trouble as they did then is debatable, but there are a few spots in the England side not yet nailed down for the Ashes and a few players need runs. If the likes of Wagner and Trent Boult get stuck in again, one or two could be in a spot of bother. Nick Compton will probably never shake off the media pressure for Joe Root, but he could do with a score in this series just to firmly ink his name in for Australia, while young Master Root himself has yet to make an international hundred despite his ludicrous domestic form. Jonny Bairstow is the other, who could hurl an enormous lion amongst the pigeons if he scores a hatful of runs in the summer’s curtain-raiser.
As far as predictions go, our record is more below-par than Pune’s IPL performances. So we’ll hesitantly suggest it’ll probably rain a shitload and be quite cold. And Graeme Swann will score a century.