New Zealand’s players would have arrived in England with just a slight spring in their step ahead of a two-match Test series starting in London on 9 May. The Black Caps recently went within a whisker of claiming an incredible 1-0 series victory over the second-ranked Test team, and just one wicket stood between them and glory at Eden Park.
Now they’re back for a return tour which will serve as a warm-up to England’s five-match Ashes series, and coach Mike Hesson believes his side has got unfinished business to take care of – that things will get going with a three-day tour match against Derbyshire on Saturday.
“The term ‘unfinished business’ reflects how we felt after that final day of the third Test at Eden Park last month,” Hesson wrote in his tour diary on the New Zealand Cricket website.
“Being so close to victory over the second-best test nation in the world was hard to swallow and I’ve never seen the guys so disappointed in the shed afterwards. I couldn’t have been prouder of their efforts, but that was certainly little consolation at the time.”
The two sides will also play three one-day internationals as part of the tour, which will serve as preparation for the upcoming ICC Champions Trophy and will end off with two T20s.
The downside for New Zealand is, of course, that much of the focus of the series will be on England and how they perform, and even if they manage to replicate some of their magical form from the recently concluded tour in their home country, it will most likely go largely unnoticed as the hosts prepare for an Ashes series against Australia starting in July.
The tour is an opportunity to nurture young talent in the one-day side, not only because of the Champions Trophy in June, but also ahead of the 2015 World Cup, which New Zealand will co-host with Australia.
After being thrashed by South Africa in a Test series in January, the Black Caps upped their game and did much better on home turf against England, with Neil Wagner and Trent Boult both impressing with the ball and Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford and Kane Williamson all chipping in with the bat.
Even though conditions in England will be vastly different to that which the Black Caps encountered in New Zealand, it’s crucial for the visitors to try and grasp something from the tour even though the entire tour will be overshadowed by Ashes babble.
Equally important is to stay focused on the on-field matters. The Ross Taylor issue remains a tender talking point and while it has seemingly been put to bed, New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum instructed his lawyers to launch defamation proceedings against John Parker a few weeks ago – and then dropped the case after an apology was issued.
Parker issued a report called ‘The Taylor Affair’ – which is an investigation into the ousting of Ross Taylor as captain towards the end of last year. Parker insisted that McCullum played a key role in firing Taylor, but McCullum dismissed the claims and the case was to be heard privately in Hamilton.
Some solace exists in the fact that neither McCullum nor Taylor are with the squad at the moment, as they are still on duty in the Indian Premier League, and Williamson will stand in as skipper for their warm-up match in Derbyshire starting on Saturday.
The stand-in skipper insists that the Ashes hoo-haa doesn’t feature in the team’s mindset, and the focus is on the task ahead.
“We’ve got nothing to do with the Ashes. We haven’t looked at it in any way, and we’re targeting our preparation ahead of the first Test.
“[England is] one of the best bowling attacks in the world, especially in these conditions. Our team culture is really strong at the moment and we’re an improving side.”
New Zealand last toured England in 2008 for a three-match series, where they lost two out of the three Tests and drew the other. They did, however, manage to win a series here before, in 1999, and coach Hesson echoed the sentiments of the substitute skipper.
“These are two hugely important Test matches for us,” he said. “We’re making progress as a Test side and certainly won’t like to be the entrée for the main course later in the season.
“England’s record in England in recent times has been outstanding. It’s a tough place to tour and we know that we’ve got to be on top of our game.”
There’s been much said about players who opt for the IPL over their country, but New Zealand management insits that the firebrand pair were always due to take care of their T20 commitments first.
“I’m quite happy with it, we’ve got a squad of about 15 and it’s hard when we’ve got two warm-up games to give everyone the opportunity to make sure we’re ready to go. Part of the collective agreement back home is that guys get a five-week window to play in the IPL so we’ve always been well aware of that,” Hesson said.
Both will link up with the side on 8 May, in time for the second warm-up match against the England Lions as well as the first Test starting on 16 May. DM
Photo: New Zealand’s captain Brendon McCullum (2nd L) leads members of his team off the ground at the end of the first test against England at the University Oval in Dunedin March 10, 2013. REUTERS/David Gray
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Tigers cannot purr.