New Zealand v England: Four talking points ahead of the third Test
New Zealand v England: Harry Kemble looks at four talking points ahead of the third and final Test
New Zealand “hanging by a thread”
New Zealand’s bowlers, according to Black Caps coach Mike Hesson, were “hanging by a thread” after coming through 317 overs by the end of England’s innings in Wellington. With the third and final Test beginning on Friday and the series locked at 0-0, New Zealand know they will have to be rest up if they want to take something from the deciding contest in Auckland. Captain Brendon McCullum has vehemently defended the pitches in Dunedin and Wellington in the wake of criticism from England bowling coach David Saker, stating that both teams have benefited from the wickets produced. “Obviously we dictated the first Test, England held on and showed some fighting qualities. They dictated this one [in Wellington] and we held on and showed some fighting qualities,” McCullum said. “We head to the last Test match and I guess both teams will be reasonably comfortable that it is nil-all at this point in time and I guess it’s all to play for in Auckland now.” Doug Bracewell, who missed both matches after cutting his foot at a party during the series build-up, looks set to make a timely return for his side. The right-arm quick has taken 46 wickets in 15 Tests to date and despite not having bowled competitively for three weeks, could add a much-needed boost to the Kiwis’ ailing attack. Neil Wagner has carried his team, chipping in with nine wickets, while Trent Boult and Tim Southee have just four and one respectively for their efforts.
Compton still not content
Despite back-to-back centuries for Nick Compton in the opening two Tests, the Somerset opener has reiterated his determination to make absolutely sure national selectors had no other choice but to pick him as Alastair Cook’s partner for this summer’s Ashes. Compton, who has been labelled an “intense” character by Cook due to his desire to analyse the game, has been one of the trip’s highlights so far. A dogged knock of 117 in the first Test was superseded somewhat by his 100 in Wellington – where he oozed composure and assurance at the crease yet added a degree of flair, striking the ball effectively off the back-foot. Those not aware of his talents before will have a far clearer understanding of the 29-year-old’s ability now. The series’ second leading run-scorer has certainly rewarded England for sticking by him after a solid, if rather unsuccessful, tour of India before Christmas.
While Australia languish, England flourish
Although Cook will not admit it publicly, he knows England are more or less settled ahead of Australia’s arrival this summer. Reports suggest Graeme Swann’s elbow operation has been a success, leaving only a period of recuperation to come before we can see how England’s premier spinner has recovered. And although Joe Root has faltered slightly in New Zealand, averaging just 4.66 in his three innings, many will be happy that the Yorkshire youngster has endured the bitter taste of failure now, rather than at Trent Bridge, where the first Ashes Test takes place. The 22-year-old performances had been nothing short of outstanding in the intense environments in India, signalling that England have a very special player on their hands. Australia, meanwhile, have suffered their third loss on the bounce at the hands of MS Dhoni’s team. And apart from Michael Clarke and perhaps right-arm quick Peter Siddle, the Aussies have little idea what their first-choice eleven is. Their situation has not been helped by Coach Mickey Arthur’s decision to drop four players ahead of their most recent loss in Mohali for failing to do their “homework”. Of course, England would be foolish to think that the five-Test contest is all but won, but it is hard to recall, if ever, an Ashes series that looks so stacked against Australia. Arthur has even deleted his Twitter account in the face of growing criticism for his team’s below-par performances on the sub-continent.
Stuart Broad back to his best
England fans could have been forgiven for being slightly twitchy going into last week’s Wellington Test. Broad, having recently relinquished his vice-captaincy to Matt Prior, was still looking nowhere near his best with the ball in hand after Dunedin. Yet a superb six for 51 in the Kiwi first innings, including a fantastic delivery to bowl Ross Taylor, propelled the Nottinghamshire quick back into English hearts. India, by all accounts, is not Broad’s first-choice destination when touring with England and poor body language coupled with an ankle injury led to a hugely disappointing series before Christmas. But despite taking a while to find his rhythm in New Zealand, Broad has returned to somewhere near his best to reclaim his place in England’s stellar pace attack alongside Steven Finn and James Anderson.