The English international summer begins on Wednesday when England play host to New Zealand in the first Test of a two game series. This is probably a bigger series for the visitors ahead of the World Test Championship Final than the hosts, but with crowds back at Lord’s, England will be eager to perform.
England have a couple of big series on the horizon but the way this series has been scheduled means they will be without some key personnel. You would think that may make the visitors the favourites but the bookmakers disagree.
This is the first time we will see England in Test match action since their tour of India which started promisingly but went pear-shaped very quickly. That was all down to conditions though and they will be much better suited to here, although it must be said the weather in the few days leading up to the match may mean that it will be hard for green seaming conditions to be possible. That said, the players have been playing red ball cricket for the last two months in the main which is a positive.
What England have done over the last 12 months or so is largely separate their white ball team and their red ball once. Their hand was forced in that regard by Covid-19 but it does mean that every fit Test match bowler is still available to them which offers them every chance in these two matches. The same can’t be said of their batting with some key players not being available here due to the schedule but that offers up the opportunity for others to stake their claim.
Often in Test cricket we are looking for a sign of who might be the best team of the moment and who might not. Usually the rankings are the thing that is used as a guide but it might be that the World Test Championship is going to be a bigger gauge in the years to come. With that in mind, the inaugural final of that competition in two weeks is a big event for New Zealand, a team becoming renowned for being the bridesmaids rather than the bride.
The fact that New Zealand are in that final highlights how well they have performed in this discipline recently but they have a bit of a reputation of being poor travellers, something they have the chance to put right here. If they are going to play well anywhere overseas you would expect it to be here where conditions are similar to those back home. Their bowlers are the strength of the side so if their batsmen can deliver the goods you get the impression they will be tough to beat.
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England will be without some key players in Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Jofra Archer. Ben Foakes was expected to deputise but he is also injured which means that James Bracey will make his debut. Ollie Robinson could also be handed his debut in the absence of Archer.
Kane Williamson has already confirmed that Devon Conway will make his debut in this match and he will open the batting alongside Tom Latham. The other choices the Kiwis have is whether Colin de Grandhomme or Daryl Mitchell gets the all-rounder berth and whether to play the spinner in Mitchell Santner or the extra seamer in Matt Henry. If de Grandhomme plays you would expect Santner to.
I’m surprised England are favourites for this match I have to say. I’m not saying they won’t be treating it seriously but from what we might consider to be their Ashes side later in the year they are missing Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Sam Curran and potentially even Moeen Ali. That is a huge amount of talent to be missing and while good quality cricketers have come in to replace them this is a full strength New Zealand side they are facing. There is no weakness to New Zealand. If the ball swings they have one of the best swing bowlers in the world, if it seams they have a 6’9” seamer and if nothing is happening Neil Wagner runs in all day. What they also have is a solid batting line up who all know their roles and they have been in the country long enough to acclimatise so there can be no excuses for the Kiwis. I think if there is a winner in this match it will be them but the shackled style in which both play with I want the draw on side too so I’ll play New Zealand-draw double chance here.
The other bet I like for the match is for Dan Lawrence to be the leading batsman for England in the first innings. Lawrence has a shade under 500 runs in the County Championship this season at an average of 55 and has settled into his Test career nicely with a couple of 50s in five matches. Lawrence isn’t the leading Championship scorer in this side. Rory Burns is ahead of him but I don’t want anything to do with anyone who could be coming up against a fresh Trent Boult or Tim Southee with the new ball. The top scorer is actually Ollie Pope but I just feel there is a bit of pressure on him to establish himself in this team which is a situation I don’t like. The other player to note is James Bracey but he’s going from batting three for his county to seven here. I despise that situation so the 7/1 on Lawrence top scoring is attractive enough for me in this one.
Back New Zealand-Draw double chance for a 3/10 stake at 2.00 with Sky Bet
Back D.Lawrence Top England Batsman for a 1/10 stake at 8.00 with Coral