Don't countback in anger as new World Cup countdown begins

Big Picture

So, who is going to be the first to mention the boundary count? Three-and-a-half months on from that tied World Cup final (you don’t need me to remind you what happened next), New Zealand and England go toe-to-toe once again in a five-match T20I series that will act as a launchpad for both sides as the countdown begins to the 2020 T20 World Cup.

As it goes, this is a format in which hitting the most boundaries often is significant. England reached the final of the 2016 World T20 during the early days of their reinvention as power-packed ODI juggernaut, and will likely be a dangerous proposition in Australia next year – though the squad sent to New Zealand is as much about potential as proven performance. And while the home side are missing their captain, Kane Williamson, as well as Trent Boult for the first three games, they have plenty of T20 chops – as shown by Colin Munro’s blitz to see off England in their second warm-up game.

ALSO READ: Gregory faces all-round challenge to prove himself in finisher role

What has gone before is less important than what is to come (Really?! Ed), and each team has their own areas to focus on as, for the next 12 months T20Is – so often an afterthought for touring sides – gain extra relevance and context. For New Zealand, the opener issues that dogged their World Cup – an appearance in the final notwithstanding – threaten to linger, while elsewhere the likes of Tim Seifert, Daryl Mitchell and Scott Kuggeleijn will be hoping to make themselves indispensable under stand-in captain Tim Southee, who led the team to a 2-1 series win in Sri Lanka on their most recent tour.

England’s overarching goal for the series, meanwhile, is to find out how a host of new faces go in international competition. The likes of Tom Banton and Pat Brown have caught the eye at domestic level in the Blast and, with a number of first-choice white-ball players rested after a doubly draining English summer featuring World Cup and Ashes, here comes a chance to step up.

England’s T20 World Cup squad is sure to feature the likes of Jason Roy, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes (all absent on this leg of the trip), and Banton may have to go some to force his way through a queue of heavyweight top-order contenders, but there are obvious question marks around the lower middle-order finisher role and a couple of the bowling slots. Sam Curran, who has yet to play T20 internationals despite Test and ODI caps (not to mention an IPL contract), may have most to gain, while allrounder Lewis Gregory, legspinner Matt Parkinson and raw quick Saqib Mahmood will be hoping to catch the eye as the series wears on.

Form guide

New Zealand LWWWL (completed matches, most recent first)
England WWWWW

In the spotlight

Ross Taylor is New Zealand’s most-capped batsman in T20Is, and likely to provide the glue in their middle-order – but the exact value of that role is something Gary Stead needs to determine ahead of the T20 World Cup. Taylor is now 35 and his last T20I fifty came in 2014, although he did top-score with 48 from 29 in his last innings but one to see New Zealand to victory in Pallekele.

The leading wicket-taker in the Blast over the last two seasons, Pat Brown has impressed with his clear head as much as his befuddling slower balls. However, figures of 1 for 70 from seven overs in England’s two tour games – albeit marred by a couple of dropped catches – suggest the 21-year-old will have to adapt quickly when the series proper begins.

Team news

The absence of Williamson perhaps makes decision-making easier at the top of the order, with Seifert likely to slot in below regular openers, Martin Guptill and Munro. Lockie Ferguson made his return from injury in England’s warm-ups and is available for three games before Boult returns. Jimmy Neesham hasn’t played a T20I in two years but could provide competition for Mitchell, while Blair Tickner is the other seam-bowling option in the squad.

New Zealand (possible): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Colin Munro, 3 Tim Seifert (wk), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Colin de Grandhomme, 6 Daryl Mitchell, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Scott Kuggeleijn, 9 Tim Southee (capt), 10 Lockie Ferguson, 11 Ish Sodhi

England have announced T20I debuts for Sam Curran and Brown, while Gregory could also make his international bow after Joe Denly – who had been expected to bat at No. 5 – rolled his ankle in training. Morgan confirmed that Dawid Malan will open the batting alongside Jonny Bairstow and, while the final XI will be revealed on Friday, Banton, Parkinson and Mahmood look set to bide their time.

England (possible): 1 Dawid Malan, 2 Jonny Bairstow, 3 James Vince, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Sam Billings (wk), 6 Lewis Gregory, 7 Sam Curran, 8 Chris Jordan, 9 Tom Curran, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Pat Brown

Pitch and conditions

The picturesque Hagley Oval will host its first T20 international on Friday, with Christchurch set to be cool but largely clear of the rain that affected Canterbury’s Plunket Shield match against Northern Districts last week (a game in which Seifert and Mitchell were among the four centurions). The ground is one of few in New Zealand built specifically for cricket and is therefore not quite such a postage stamp – which the bowlers may appreciate ahead of trips to the Westpac Stadium and Eden Park.

Stats and trivia

  • Overall, in 16 T20Is going back to 2007, England are way ahead of New Zealand on boundary countback, having scored 342 (237 fours, 105 sixes) to 264 (172 fours, 92 sixes).

  • England are also in front on head-to-head, winning 10 out of 15 games that have reached a result.

  • Although they lost the last encounter, by two runs in Hamilton last year, New Zealand still progressed to the tri-series final against Australia on NRR thanks to another Munro assault.

Quotes

“It’s a different format. We’ve had a tour to Sri Lanka, so life goes on and you move on.”
Tim Southee says the World Cup final defeat is behind New Zealand

“Twelve months is a long way down the road, we play a lot of T20 cricket between now and then, so I think being quite flexible and trying to build a 15- or 16-man squad is actually more important than the final XI.”
Eoin Morgan on England’s T20I ambitions

Source Link