- New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Auckland
Deadlocked sides target final flourish
Friday, March 22, Eden Park, Auckland
Start time 1030 (2130 GMT previous day)
There is a Test series up for grabs in New Zealand, but England's thoughts are never far away from the important summer that lies in wait. Their hosting of the Champions Trophy offers them a chance to break their duck in a 50-over ICC tournament and then there is the little matter of back-to-back Ashes series. There is no point pretending otherwise - it is on everybody's mind.
Three back-to-back Tests in New Zealand are bound to leave England a little queasy. Every time James Anderson frowned in his run up in the second Test in Wellington, awful visions appeared of him missing an entire summer with an as yet undiagnosed injury. But Anderson came through 37 grueling overs, largely into the wind, with nothing more than a few back and heel niggles and with the help of the rain that washed out the final day confirmed that he felt okay again. He is only five wickets short of 300 but the slightest concern about his fitness would tempt England to play safe and rest their most prized bowling asset; Graham Onions was one of only three players who had optional nets on Tuesday.
And what of Monty? He was outbowled by Bruce Martin at the Basin Reserve and before this series few people in England had even heard of Bruce Martin. As Graeme Swann's sidekick in India, Panesar shared in one of the finest spin-bowling feats in England's Test history. As a lone spinner in New Zealand, his ability to block up an end allowed England to rotate their fast bowlers (and, no mean feat, probably helped to keep them fit in the process).
Accusations that New Zealand have been intent solely on a nil-all draw are somewhat unfair. If the pitch in Dunedin was a drudge, Wellington provided a decent Test surface. New Zealand have been competitive, not remotely the pushovers that some imagined as they have battled back from the mess of the Ross Taylor ousting; they can take pride in that. Indeed, their professionalism has been so exemplary it invites the New Zealand public to consider whether the replacement of Taylor with Brendon McCullum was actually more logical than it has so far cared to admit.
New Zealand DDLLW
Players to watch ...
Brendon McCullum has led from the front for New Zealand throughout this tour. His counter-attacking half-century in Wellington (are his innings ever anything else?) was his fifth in consecutive innings. However, his form is too good for him not to convert into a hundred. If the surface at Eden Park does have more pace and bounce as suggested McCullum is one of the New Zealand batsmen best equipped to deal with it. Beating England after all that has happened - what an achievement that would be.
Jonny Bairstow has played one first-class innings in seven months and now England have confirmed he will be pitched into a deciding Test. No surprise, then, that while most of the squad had a day off on Wednesday he was working in the nets with Graham Gooch. It has been a difficult for months for Bairstow - form and family issues impacted his tours - but this is a chance, albeit an unexpected one, to play a key role for England.
Kevin Pietersen will not only miss the final Test in Auckland but the whole of the IPL because of a knee injury which has ruled him out of all cricket for up to eight weeks. Instead of the adulation which he laps up on every visit to India, he faces a lengthy rehabilitation with a view to regaining match fitness in time for the Champions Trophy and the Ashes series which follows. Bairstow will deputise. For New Zealand, a third Test in quick succession will tempt them to shuffle their pace attack with the possibility that Doug Bracewell may get an outing instead of Trent Boult.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Peter Fulton, 2 Hamish Rutherford, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Dean Brownlie, 6 Brendon McCullum, 7 BJ Watling, 8 Doug Bracewell, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Bruce Martin, 11 Neil Wagner
England (probable): 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Nick Compton, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Ian Bell, 5 Jonny Bairstow, 6 Joe Root, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Steven Finn, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar.
Pitch and conditions
Drop-in Test pitches are regarded with such suspicion - somewhere between an artificial surface and the real thing - that discussing their likely behaviour still seems a little unreal. A couple of days to help the seamers before the pitch flattens out was one analysis. As for the weather, temperatures at the end of the summer have slipped a tad, but a maximum of 23C and a good deal of sunshine is the forecast.
Stats and trivia
- Eden Park has staged 47 matches since 1930 and many suspect this may be its last. Its straight boundaries fall well short of the 70m minimum distance from the centre of the pitch, but ICC regulations allow any ground approved for international cricket before 2007 cricket to be exempt. So that's alright then.
- New Zealand have beaten England only once in 15 attempts at Eden Park (10 have been drawn). Daryl Tuffey was the star of their win in 2002 with nine wickets in the match and his 6 for 54 in the first innings was a Test-best analysis.
- England have won deciders on this tour over both 50 and 20 overs.
- England have never won a 50-over ICC trophy; if they tell you they have not even given the Champions Trophy, to be played in England in June, a second thought, greet it with suspicion.
"The confidence within the group is building nicely but there's also a realism that we will have to perform outstandingly well for five days. England stepped up in those previous two deciders and we went missing so this will be a good challenge to see if we've progressed as a team."
"In an ideal world a pitch with more pace and bounce would make for a more exciting wicket. But whichever pitch we get in Auckland we'll try to find the best way to win the game."
Alastair Cook, England's captain, vows to keep going.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo