The Black Caps start their two-match test series against England in Mount Maunganui on Thursday. Niall Anderson runs through five key questions ahead of the opening showdown.
Which bowlers will the Black Caps pick?
The Black Caps selection panel have a real dilemma on their hands. It would be a bold call to break up New Zealand's greatest test fast bowling trio – Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner have taken 679 wickets at an average of 28.3 – but Lockie Ferguson is the type of bowler who could necessitate such a bold call.
Wagner would be the bowler most at risk, but claimed 16 wickets in his last two home tests, and has taken 17 in his last four innings in the Plunket Shield. Depending on the wicket, there could even be the chance of playing four frontline seamers and no spinners (The debate between Mitchell Santner and Todd Astle is another tricky one for the selection panel), but with rotation necessary anyway over the upcoming five tests, perhaps the selectors will go with their tried and trusted trio, and hold Ferguson back for the second test.
Can Jeet Raval make runs?
Raval has had a rough run since he posted his maiden test century against Bangladesh in Hamilton in February. His following four test innings resulted in scores of three, 33, four and a duck, and his return to first-class cricket provided returns of seven, three and 14. His overall average of 34.6 in 20 tests is good enough to persist with, especially given the lack of batting talent in reserve, with Will Young injured, Devon Conway unavailable for selection until September, and Hamish Rutherford unconvincing and now concussed after being struck by Jofra Archer when playing for New Zealand A.
While he still has some leeway, two further tests without a score may leave the selectors slightly nervous about selecting Raval for three showdowns in Australia.
Who will be England's new faces?
After a mixed bag with the bat in the Ashes, England are expected to give two rising youngsters a shot in New Zealand. Dom Sibley will open the batting alongside Rory Burns, with the 24-year-old set to make his test debut after an excellent county season where he scored 1,234 runs – the only man to pass 1,000 – at an average of 69.7. A traditional test opener who will grind out the runs, take things slowly and look for big scores, Sibley hit a century against the New Zealand XI in Whangarei, and smacked a double ton in his most recent county match.
Also hitting a recent double century was Ollie Pope, with the 21-year-old doing so for Surrey in an excellent campaign which saw him earn a test recall. Thrown into the fire against India in 2018, Pope made 54 runs in three digs, but boasts a daunting first-class average of 59.5, and should walk out at No 6 for England in the two tests.
Can England cash in on their batting depth?
It's reasonable to have questions about the England's top order. Aside from Joe Root and Ben Stokes, the rest of England's top six don't carry a great pedigree – Rory Burns had a solid Ashes but was lucky at times, Joe Denly didn't convince, and Sibley and Pope are untested in overseas test conditions.
However, England are set to bat remarkably deep. Jos Buttler slammed a century against New Zealand A, Sam Curran averages 30, as does Archer in first-class cricket, while No 10 Stuart Broad hit 169 in a test and No 11 Jack Leach famously made 92 earlier this year.
So, even if New Zealand's fast bowlers get an early edge, this won't be like recent tests against Sri Lanka or Bangladesh – England's tail is set to make them fight for every wicket.
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Will Jofra Archer be able to repeat his Ashes heroics?
It was a furious introduction to test cricket for Archer, claiming two six-wicket hauls and 22 scalps in total during the Ashes, but he might find things a bit trickier in New Zealand as he prepares for his first overseas test.
Until last week, Archer had never bowled with a red Kookaburra ball, and some of his fellow seamers hold poor records when using the Kookaburra in overseas conditions. Archer had his first taste in warm-up games in Whangarei, where he took 2-46 against the New Zealand XI and returns of 2-58 and 3-34 against New Zealand A, but told the Daily Mail it was "a bit of wake-up call."
"The pitch at Cobham Oval was probably the flattest I've played on in my life and it's fair to say the Kookaburra ball is a bit of a challenge as well.
"I knew it was going to be tough and so it proved."
He should get more assistance in Mount Maunganui, and the Black Caps batsmen will be extremely wary of his feats from earlier this year – even with the Kookaburra challenge.