LONDON: With a new cricket director, coach and chairman, England return to the field of play in the first test against New Zealand on Thursday following an extraordinary period of upheaval.
Alastair Cook leads his team into a huge summer of cricket which will be defined by the Ashes, but first up they must deal with a vibrant and confident New Zealand side in a two-test series.
England should be warned not to take New Zealand lightly.
The Kiwis are unbeaten in test series since losing in England two years ago and reached their first World Cup final in March, playing a brand of aggressive and innovative cricket that has become their hallmark under Brendon McCullum’s captaincy.
England, in stark contrast, are in disarray following a dismal World Cup campaign and a disappointing 1-1 test series draw in West Indies.
New cricket director Andrew Strauss sacked coach Peter Moores 10 days ago and his next task was to reveal that Kevin Pietersen would not be recalled, despite the mercurial right-hander’s career-best innings of 355 not out for Surrey.
Strauss, trying desperately to draw a line under the Pietersen issue which has dogged English cricket since he was axed 15 months ago, spoke of a complete breakdown of trust.
An angry Pietersen responded by accusing the ECB of deceitful behaviour and the mud-slinging will rumble on.
England have called up Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth to open with Cook.
Nick Compton, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson and Jonathan Trott have failed to establish themselves as Cook’s partner and now the 27-year-old Lyth gets his chance.
The compact left-hander has a first-class average of 43.2 and 15 centuries to his name, and England will desperately hope he has the right temperament to compliment his natural ability.
Otherwise, the team has a familiar look.
Gary Ballance, Ian Bell and Joe Root are an established middle-order while James Anderson and Stuart Broad should continue their potent new-ball partnership in home conditions.
Cook made his first international century for nearly two years in West Indies and Jos Buttler is improving as a wicketkeeper and a potentially destructive number seven.
New Zealand, however, have a superb attack with Tim Southee and Trent Boult, how England would love to have a left-arm seamer of his ability to call on, probably their best ever new-ball partnership.
With the destructive McCullum and Martin Guptill at the top of the order and Kane Williamson, a cohesive presence at number three, the touring side’s batting looks dangerous and solid.
England must front up. They must be positive and brave.
Defeat by New Zealand will only ramp up the pressure before a bullish Australia side head over supremely confident of winning an away Ashes series for the first time since 2001. (Reuters)