Cricket: Warmup win a helpful boost

By David Leggat

BJ Watling. Photo / Getty Images
BJ Watling. Photo / Getty Images

Outcomes like this tend to focus the mind and can plant seeds of doubt.

New Zealand should take heart from England's three-wicket cricket loss in Queenstown, but feet will remain firmly grounded.

The first test starts at Dunedin's University Oval on Wednesday. England's premier quicks, James Anderson and Steven Finn, will ensure a stiffer inquisition of New Zealand's batsmen than was put on the New Zealand XI batsmen.

England's batting was patchy but Ian Bell's first innings century, captain Alastair Cook in the first innings and wicketkeeper Matt Prior in both, enjoyed good workouts.

England's last first-class tour defeat was seven years ago to an Indian Board President's XI in Vadodara by eight wickets.

The match was a really good contest, and a proper one. No nonsense of 12-a-side so beloved of touring teams these days.

Will England be twitchy after the defeat, which came with eight balls left in the match and the New Zealand XI having reached 334 for seven? Probably not but outcomes like this tend to focus the mind and can plant seeds of doubt.

Invariably the home teams, loaded with incentivised younger players, have it all to play for; the touring sides less so. Their ambition is all around test preparation.

Opener Nick Compton and middle order champion Kevin Pietersen had double failures. So too Jonathan Trott, except he's been here and made good runs during the ODI series.

The New Zealand XI did the test side a world of good. Anderson and Finn notwithstanding, they showed what can be achieved. England are not supermen, although as world No 2 test team, they're not half bad either.

BJ Watling's fine double of 66 not out and 89 not out was an ideal test leadup; Dean Brownlie and Hamish Rutherford did well too.

Neil Wagner won his showdown against Mark Gillespie to get into the squad of 13 preparing for the test. He's likely to miss out on the final XI, at least partly because there's a feeling Tim Southee, Doug Bracewell and Trent Boult are the first choice trio.

Boult has taken 30 wickets in his 10 tests at 31.43, and bagged seven in the win at Colombo three tests back. Bracewell has 46 wickets in 15 tests at 31.89. Of more relevance, he has taken just nine in the last six tests at 64 apiece. He's due to deliver.

Play four seamers and omitting the specialist spinner Bruce Martin? Possible, depending on what is read into the pitch, and if they believe Kane Williamson can deliver 10 overs of tidy offspin as a makeweight.

Take note, too, of Corey Anderson's performance. Affected by a side strain on the first day, the talented but injury-prone allrounder played two crucial innings, 67 and 44; James Neesham was among the wickets in a third-seamer role. Good signs.

- NZ Herald

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