There is something delicious about England’s two-Test series against New Zealand. It’s the underdog biting the bum of the stick-wielding authoritarian, the supposed minnow overturning the top table and stamping on the wares, David ordering Goliath to stand in baking sun the nets for endless throwdowns.
New Zealand will take on India in the World Test Championship this month. And their two-Test series against England, mighty, haughty England, will serve them very nicely indeed as a warm-up. England, who along with India and Australia tried to carve up the world game not so long ago that they got the most moolah, are now showing the Kiwis, bowing and scraping, to the Royal box. It’s beautiful.
Kane Williamson’s team couldn’t wish for better preparation. Tests at Lord’s – starting on Wednesday – and then Edgbaston should mean they are perfectly tuned up to take down the ultimate bully in Southampton from June 18. India, by contrast, will have only been well-trained for long-haul flights and quarantine. It is slightly surprising, therefore, that Betfair Sportsbook make India even money favourites with New Zealand 13/10.
By the end of their two-Test tour it is possible that, once again, we will be reminded of the importance of acclimatisation. At Headquarters in game one, for example, we expect a rustiness to New Zealand’s play which may make some wonder what on earth they are doing contesting the No 1 spot.
Before taking on Stuart Broad or James Anderson (possibly both at the same time) with a swinging and seaming red Duke’s ball, New Zealand have had one intra-squad match over two days. As competitive heat goes it is akin to gazpacho left out in the mid-day sun.
Man for man most impartial observers would rate New Zealand as a superior Test team to England. They have only lost four of their last 18, won the last two series on the head-to-head and drew 1-1 on their last visit in 2015. Importantly, their batsmen are unafflicted by the bowler-friendly conditions which do for most tourists because they have similar at home.
Yet this is not a series which is likely to be decided by ability. Preparedness is key. And New Zealand are unlikely to be at full tilt against England, whose key players have benefited from rare stints in county cricket. Anderson has turned out for Lancashire, Broad four times for Nottinghamshire. Rory Burns, Joe Root and Ollie Pope all have first-class centuries chalked up, Dom Sibley a ton in a warm-up against the students and Zak Crawley should have notched at least one. James Bracey, expected to debut with the gloves, has been in sensational nick for Gloucestershire.
These are the pertinent facts, rather than getting bogged down with Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, the only certain starters from the IPL contingent, being absent. It is also key that Trent Boult is out for New Zealand. Kyle Jamieson, as brilliant as he is going to be, has a learning curve on his first tour with the Duke’s.
With an expected 1-0 lead heading into Edgbaston, their fortress, England are a against-the-tide fancy for a 2-0 success on the correct score. Sportsbook go 2/1. The jeopardy in this market is whether Lord’s will be enough for New Zealand to hit their stride. A 1-1 correct score bet is 9/4. Given that England are even money to win the first Test and New Zealand 15/8 the 2-0 may represent smarter value.
Perhaps the most solid betting opportunity of the series is taking the 9/2 that Ross Taylor finishes as New Zealand’s top series runscorer. Taylor is often the forgotten man of the line-up which is bizarre because he is their all-time highest rungetter.
Not surprisingly he wins more often than the hot favourite Kane Williamson, who has been priced at 6/4. Williamson has four wins in his last 15 series, a 26% hit rate. Taylor should be about 4/1 on win rate, giving an edge of 1.8%.
Tom Latham has had an excellent couple of years but the 10/3 should be 4s. Besides, topping the charts as an opener in England is mighty hard. Only two visiting openers have top scored for their team in a series in England in the last ten years (Tillakaratne Dilshan in 2011 and Murali Vijay in 2014).