Cricket: Black Caps to attack Swann

By Kris Shannon

Graeme Swann of England. Photo / Getty Images
Graeme Swann of England. Photo / Getty Images

For all the talk of how New Zealand's seamers will fare with the Duke ball, a more salient aspect of the test series against England could be how the batsmen cope with spin.

The Blacks Caps' fast-bowling stocks have attracted attention in the build-up to the first test, starting at Lord's on Thursday, with the problem of fitting four men into three spots matched by the adaptation to the unfamiliar cherry.

But it's one of England's bowlers who could hold the key to this series, one whom the touring batsmen have never faced while wearing the white clothing.

It is merely a quirk that the 34-year-old Graeme Swann is yet to face New Zealand in his 50-test career, but the aberration has played to the Black Caps' advantage.

After enduring a wretched 2012 against spinners, New Zealand's batsmen enjoyed a reprieve in the home series against England when Swann was ruled out with an elbow injury which subsequently required surgery.

Swann's replacement, Monty Panesar, was ineffective in taking only five wickets in 130 overs as England hung on for a drawn series. But a fully-recovered Swann has declared his elbow has never felt better and has been recalled to take Panesar's place in the hosts' squad for the opening test.

With the two teams unable to be separated across 15 days of cricket in March, the approach New Zealand's batsmen take with Swann at the crease could prove the difference.

And, according to Ross Taylor, he and his teammates are not about to shy away from the confrontation. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"He is a world-class spinner," Taylor told the Guardian. "But, as a batting unit, we have to be aggressive against him.

"If we can be aggressive and not let him settle hopefully we can keep the scoreboard ticking over."

Taylor conceded that his side played poorly against spin on the sub-continent last year, something of an understatement when assessing where the damage was done.

In four tests away to India and Sri Lanka, 57 of 79 New Zealand batsmen were dismissed by spin. Having lost 72 per cent of their wickets to tweakers, the carnage wrought by South Africa's pace attack in the Black Caps' next test series must have almost felt like a welcome relief.

Although there is no suggestion the wickets at Lord's and Leeds will play like the spinners' paradise often encountered in the sub-continent, the tourists' batting unit, as Taylor alluded to, must amend their approach.

Too many batsmen played far too tentatively as the wickets tumbled against India and Sri Lanka but Taylor's tactics, which often involved taking the attack to the bowler, separated him from his peers. In New Zealand's two best results of those tours - the second test victory over Sri Lanka and the battling loss to India in Bangalore - Taylor stroked brilliant centuries, with the latter in particular providing a clinic in controlled aggression.

Now, with Taylor calling on his teammates to adopt a similar method against Swann, the success of such a strategy could be the making of the series.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's four-day warm-up game against the England Lions petered out to a damp draw in Leicester overnight (NZT).

Joe Root was finally removed for 179 by Doug Bracewell, who also claimed the wicket of Chris Woakes to demonstrate his readiness to step into the fray should Tim Southee fail to recover from the foot injury he suffered on day three.

The Lions had reached 444-7, a lead of 159 over New Zealand's first innings effort, when the rain arrived and prematurely ended the match.

- APNZ

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