Lord’s is a special cricket ground, and for the New Zealand team about to play England there on Thursday, it’s a massive occasion - with only three out of the presumed starting XI having played there before. From sampling the lunch to strolling out of the pavilion, it’s an occasion to relish, with the Black Caps hoping to top it off with a special performance. By ANT SIMS.
There is always an air of anticipation surrounding a Test series in England. It is, after all, the home of cricket, and teams who tour here always come bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. That anticipation is multiplied when the series starts at Lord’s, and when those taking part haven’t played a Test match at the ground.
Out of the presumed starting XI, it’s only Ross Taylor, Tim Southee and Brendon McCullum who have played a Test at the historic ground, and while some of the other players have sampled it in another format, Test cricket is a different beast. For the Black Caps, it’s a fine line between relishing the occasion and keeping their excitement contained.
“You don’t want to let it fly by without soaking it up. It was nice to come to the ground and sample the lunch here,” coach Mike Hesson joked.
“We got out there and had a good look at the field. Come Thursday, I think we’ll be good to go. We’re not sure if it’s an extra challenge, there’s a huge level of excitement in the air. We’re all pretty focused, but it will be a great experience regardless of the result, but it will be reviewed a lot more fondly if we perform well,and that’s our main focus,” the coach added.
It’s a short tour for New Zealand, just two Tests on the back of a three-Test tour in the Land of the Long White Cloud earlier in the year. While these things are decided in advance, the Future Tours Programme is seemingly an immovable object.
While the Black Caps were absolutely thrashed in South Africa, they showed incredible signs of improvement when England came to visit, but they have to settle for just two matches – and while the coach admits he’d have liked to have more games, he accepts that as the team progresses, the fixture list will expand.
“When you come over here, you’d love to play more than two, without a doubt. But with the Future Tours Programme, you get what you’re given. We do get a chance to negotiate things in advance and I guess the better you do, the more you get. We have to look to improve first, though,” Hesson said.
England, meanwhile, has a rather busy summer ahead of it, and while the team vastly underperformed against the Black Caps, it’s unlikely that they’ll get capsized twice, especially on home turf.
They have been warned against complacency, and upon the announcement of the Test squad, national selector Geoff Miller had some stern words for those tasked with bettering the 0-0 draw which played out in New Zealand earlier in the year.
“It keeps your feet on the ground. It makes you realise you can’t just go into a game and go through the motions and win the game because, on paper, you are supposedly superior. It doesn’t work like that. These boys know they have to perform,” he said, after announcing England’s first Test squad of the summer.
“It was very disappointing and we talked about that, but they are capable of playing far, far better than that – and know that – and hopefully, I’m quietly confident, they’ll show they are a better side.”
Graeme Swann is back for the hosts and while Monty Panesar will miss out, Miller insists it has nothing to do with quick reactions to a blip in performance.
“All right, they under-performed there, but they’re capable of playing better than that, and you don’t just discard somebody because they have had a bad time as a unit,” he said. “You just say ‘right, not good enough, improve’. That’s exactly the message they have been given.
“New Zealand is a good side; they have shown what they are capable of doing. Maybe we were forced to under-perform, but we didn’t play to the capabilities they have shown in the past so that has got to be rectified.”
The first Test starts at Lord’s on Thursday and, as with every English summer, there’s some ominous weather forecast for at least two days of the Test. The overcast conditions will certainly aid the seamers, and while England is unlikely to play an all-pace attack, New Zealand has said it’s a strategy they will certainly consider, should the conditions allow.
The two-match tour is a small blip on the radar of the summer, with the Champions Trophy and the Ashes both the two focal points of the next few months, but it’s certainly not a blip on New Zealand’s progressive radar.
The Black Caps aren’t to be underestimated, and while words such as “village” have often been thrown around to describe them as a unit, they are far more progressive than that. While backroom politics are probably not over, it’s at least been shoved aside for the time being, and a young side with plenty of promise can, hopefully, focus on making the impossible improbable. DM
Photo: Members of the New Zealand team run during a training session before Thursday’s first cricket test against England at Lord’s cricket ground in London May 14, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown
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