Sport

Tipping their (Black) Caps: A new cricket challenge on English turf

By Ant Sims 16 May 2013

Toss the confetti and sound the Lord’s bell: England’s summer of cricket is about to start. A two-match Test series against New Zealand is just the appetiser ahead of an eat-as-much-as-you-like buffet. Now all the hosts have to do is to ensure they don’t choke on the starters. By ANT SIMS.

There are only three certainties in life. Death, taxes, and that it will rain in England whenever there is cricket on. The first Test between England and New Zealand, which starts on Thursday, promises to have at least one of those certainties – and while it won’t be chucking down for most of the match, there will be a few interruptions. Still, unruly weather is just part of cricket, and both sides will head into the contest with that in mind.

The weather is probably the only thing the two teams have in common. England is vastly experienced, familiar with conditions, ranked second in the world and gearing up for a five-match series against Australia later in the year. New Zealand is ranked eighth, only three of its squad have played a Test at Lord’s, and the team will only play a Test again in November, at the earliest.

Yet one can’t help but think that the series means just a little bit more to New Zealand than it does to England. After holding the second-best Test team in the world to a valiant 0-0 draw and coming so close to clinching a series victory in the land of the Long White Cloud a few months ago, the Black Caps are undoubtedly keen to prove that they have put the savage beating by South Africa behind them.

New Zealand skipper, Brendon McCullum, is well aware that the battle on England’s turf is something completely different, but hopes that his side can exploit some of the conditions here.

“Obviously that series back home was really good for us. We learned a lot as a team. We know that this challenge is going to be a lot different and it’s going to be a lot harder as well,” McCullum said.

“We know we are going to have improve as a team on our performance. We know that they (England) are going to be a tough proposition, but we believe we have got some guys who will be favoured by these conditions as well.”

Exploiting the conditions is one thing; containing their excitement of playing at Lord’s for the first time is another. Hamish Rutherford, who scored a century on debut against England and a century against the England Lions in a warm-up game, was so excited about being at Lord’s for the first time that he was taking pictures as he went along.

To top off his frolicking around the nursery ground, he joined Martin Guptill and former New Zealand fast bowler Iain O’Brien on a quick tour of the media centre during the first training day. Rutherford is in the fortunate position of being able to draw on the experience of his father, the former New Zealand skipper Ken Rutherford, on playing at the historic ground.

“My dad just told me to absorb it all and walk around as much as possible to make sure I feel at home,” Rutherford said.

Feeling at home at the Home of Cricket is not quite as simple as one might think, though. The iron gates and towering pavilion can bring a whole different level of intimidation, along with the actual cricket. Another challenge is dealing with the amount of lip which will come from the slips when Rutherford walks out to bat, something the 24-year-old hasn’t really experienced previously.

“I haven’t really had a funny or really witty sledge. There’s the odd father one, but I really haven’t heard a good one,” the opener said.

While England will be chatty, they’ll do well not to forget what happened in New Zealand not too long ago. They were accused of complacency for those results, but skipper Alistair Cook insists that was not quite the case.

“I don’t think we were complacent at all. I don’t think anyone who saw our build-up, or was involved in our build-up, would say we were complacent. We didn’t play as well as we could have done: that’s the bottom line. We all know cricket is not played on paper or on rankings. It’s out there in the middle, 11 v 11. It doesn’t matter what’s gone on before or after. It’s those five days,” the English skipper said.

Complacent or not, England has a chance to prove that it is deserving of the number-two spot in Test cricket – and a chance to send a warning message to Australia that the impending visit won’t be easy. New Zealand, meanwhile, will be quietly confident that if they can eke out even a draw, they’ll end the tour the far more satisfied team. DM

Photo: England’s captain Alastair Cook attends a news conference before Thursday’s first test cricket match against New Zealand at Lord’s cricket ground in London May 15, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown

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