After a couple of years of ordinary Test cricket, England will be looking to make a confident start to their back-to-back Ashes year in New Zealand. The buzzword coming out of the English camp right now is ‘momentum’ as the tourists know strong performances home and away against New Zealand will give them a good platform for the big one(s).
In their only warm-up game before this series England lost to a New Zealand XI by three wickets in a performance which coach Andy Flower described as ‘sloppy’. While these sorts of performances are unacceptable for a team that was recently ranked first in the world, the coach must know they won’t have to improve much to beat a team in transition, who are ranked 8th in the Test rankings.
After ruthlessly dumping Ross Taylor as captain and replacing him with Brendon McCullum there is a definite lack of harmony in the hosts’ camp as they look to find their best XI. Star spinner Daniel Vettori is out injured so the Black Caps' line-up lacks real quality outside of McCullum, Taylor and opener Martin Guptill.
England are as short as 3.50 to claim a 3-0 whitewash in this series and this is probably down to their far superior seam attack. If Stuart Broad returns to form then he, Steven Finn and James Anderson probably make up the best seam threesome in world cricket. The combination of bowler-friendly conditions and a weak looking Kiwi batting line-up could see wickets fall in quick succession.
Coach Andy Flower quickly cooled the excitement surrounding Joe Root by confirming that Nick Compton will retain his place at the top of the order. Root will likely slot in at six with Broad, Finn and Anderson making up the tourists’ three-pronged attack.
The hosts' biggest selection concern heading into this series opener is the fitness of seamer Doug Bracewell after he suffered what has been described cryptically as a ‘party injury’. Ian Butler, who has not played a Test since 2004, has been called up as cover if the 22-year-old is unable to play due to his cut foot.
England will win this series on the road to bigger things later this year – this is why they are priced as short as 1.25. The 3-0 score line is definitely worth considering at 3.50.
Batsmen will have to be patient in bowler-friendly conditions so you really have to back Jonathan Trott to be England’s top batsmen this series (4.50) as he is not afraid to grind out ugly runs.
On the Black Caps side, you must back Ross Taylor to top score at 4.0. The stylish batsman, who turns 29 during the first Test, will have the biggest chip on his shoulder after being unceremoniously dumped as captain so expect to see him turn this indignity into runs.
Despite their careless performance in their only warm-up game you really should back England to win in Dunedin at 1.51. A really interesting bet that I think should be taken advantage of is James Anderson to be the man of the match at 9.0. The swinging conditions in Dunedin will suit the ‘Burnley Express’ down to the ground and a 10-wicket match haul should be enough to see him posing with an oversized cheque later in the week.