David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: NZ must seize on chance for series win

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If New Zealand don't arrive at Eden Park on Friday morning full of self-belief something's seriously wrong.

Consider the backdrop.

New Zealand were expected to be at least competitive, if not better, in the T20 and ODI series, and were so. England won the deciders both times, turning it on as New Zealand turned off on both occasions.

The tests were different. Few gave New Zealand a chance over the course of the three tests. World no 2 vs world No 8, after all, albeit in the lower-ranked team's back yard.

As they were being bashed about in South Africa in January, if anyone had suggested they'd get to the final match all square, they would have been sent to sit in the corner and rest awhile.

Certainly weather has had an unfortunate impact on the first two tests. But New Zealand had the better of the opening test at Dunedin; similarly England owned the bulk of the second test.

Take out the hours lost in both matches and more than likely they'd have had positive results. What's more it's not beyond the bounds of possibility they would have been getting to Auckland still all square, but with a win apiece.

So now New Zealand know they can compete on an equal footing. Get the toss right, get into the contest on day one and who knows.

That said, it's worth remembering some numbers.

England's top seven batsmen include the world's No 6 (Alastair Cook), No 11 (Kevin Pietersen), No 13 (Jonathan Trott), No 15 (Matt Prior) and No 17 (Ian Bell) ranked players. The exceptions are Nick Compton, who has made two centuries in the first two tests, and Joe Root, who is tipped for great things in the years ahead.

New Zealand have Ross Taylor at No 7. Next up is captain Brendon McCullum at No 26, Kane Williamson at No 38 and Dan Vettori, who hasn't played a test since late July, still at No 42.

England's present attack of Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Monty Panesar are respectively Nos 6, 14, 19 and 30.

New Zealand's best ranked bowler is the unwanted Chris Martin at No 17. Vettori still sits at No 22. The current four are Tim Southee (22), Trent Boult (40), Neil Wagner (69) and newcomer Bruce Martin at 80.

Numbers can be misleading but they can at least give a reasonable guide.

England, unhappy at having their key seam bowling strength drawn by the state of the first two test pitches, will be itching for pace and bounce at Eden Park. But it may not necessarily be a bad thing for New Zealand either.

In Southee, Boult and Wagner they have bowlers who like those qualities too. Whether they're good enough to exploit them, should Eden Park be a significantly different beast from University Oval and the Basin Reserve, remains to be seen.

A reasonable expectation of Eden Park is of a good batting strip, with more carry and pace than the previous two. The pitch used on the ground for the ODI last month had plenty to have tall Finn and skilled Anderson smiling. They were too good for New Zealand that day.

The same won't be seen this week. McCullum said he'd like another pitch just like the last two.

He mightn't quite get his wish, but anyone licking their lips in anticipation of a seamer's paradise this week could be out of luck.

New Zealand must press hard. Think back to the travails, the upheavals since they set off for the West Indies back in July. Seven of eight tests were lost before England arrived, some horribly so. Imagine the fillip victory in the series over England would do.

It might not happen, but New Zealand must figure they're right in the game.

- NZ Herald

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