David Leggat on sport
David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

Cricket: Focus on Ashes may play to Black Caps' advantage

By David Leggat

In case it had escaped your notice, there's an Ashes series starting in England in July.

Five tests, from July 10 at Trent Bridge, ending at The Oval from August 21-25 and for which, you might have been led to believe, the cricket world will stop to give rapt attention.

Every seat taken for all five fifth days might sound optimistic, but such is the anticipation of what lies ahead as England aim to retain the Ashes.

All of which might yet work to New Zealand's advantage when they start their criminally short two-test rubber at Lord's next Thursday night.

This may sound like grasping at straws, but there's no question New Zealand have been a bit-part player in what is shaping as a bumper English summer.

England will be without Kevin Pietersen, recuperating from a knee injury.

But they need to be on guard having, despite denials by management and captain Alastair Cook, appeared to have taken their opponents more lightly than they should, especially early on, in the series in New Zealand.

New Zealand did enough in the course of that drawn three-test series to suggest they have got it in them to be competitive against England again.

It looks like they'll play the same XI at Lord's, making it four tests in succession with the same group.

Captain Brendon McCullum, who claimed this week New Zealand "deserved" to win the home series, took a different tack on the skinny nature of the tests coming up.

"Our task now is finishing off a five-test series," he said, niftily combining the home and away rubbers.

"I like to think we put them under pressure to show some weaknesses in their line-up.

"I'm sure that this series they are going to be even better prepared and more aware of us.

"But at the same time expect us to be better prepared and more aware as well."

Certainly they should fancy their chances, and while it might sound fanciful, if England's eyes are fixed too rigidly on the higher-profile event, they could come unstuck, or at the least be more vulnerable than otherwise.

New Zealand's record at Lord's isn't flash.

One win, in 1999 on the back of Chris Cairns, Geoff Allott, Dion Nash and Dan Vettori's bowling, and Matt Horne's century, against six losses out of 15 matches tells its own story.

The first part of the opening leg of this England tour has gone reasonably well. Winning shouldn't be underestimated, even if Derbyshire weren't particularly strong.

The third seamer rivals, Neil Wagner and Doug Bracewell, took eight and seven wickets respectively - the former showing his readiness to continue his strong work of the home series; the latter doing exactly what the management will have wanted, getting back on the horse at the first available opportunity, having missed the last three tests with a cut foot.

Spinner Bruce Martin has another chance against England Lions to ready himself for Lord's, while Kane Williamson, Dean Brownlie and wicketkeeper BJ Watling were all in the runs.

Of the expected New Zealand team for Lord's, just three players have had a test on the game's most celebrated turf, McCullum, Ross Taylor and Tim Southee.

Nerves may be at play among some of them next Thursday night.

This is one of the red-letter occasions in New Zealand cricket, a test at the home of the game.

You can't doubt they'll be up for the contest. Whether they are good enough in pure cricketing terms is another story.

But perhaps the key question will be whether their hosts are fired to the same degree, bearing in mind what lies ahead for them.

On the agenda

• New Zealand's game against England Lions began in Leicester late last night.
• The first test against England starts at Lord's next Thursday. The second test is at Leeds, starting on May 24.

- NZ Herald

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