New Zealand Challenge Marks England Return

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England's two-Test series against New Zealand gets underway at Lord's on Wednesday.

Kane Williamson

England’s packed 2021 cricket schedule resumes on Wednesday with the first of two Tests against New Zealand getting underway at Lord’s.

This mini series was not initially in the calendar but given the events, or perhaps more pertinently, lack of, over the last year or so, it has been added to reward punters, sponsors and broadcasters, with fans now allowed back in the stadiums.

From an English perspective, there is a certain second-string feel to the challenge, with the likes of Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Chris Woakes, Sam Curran and Moeen Ali rested, while Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer – who may well have been left out anyway – both missing through injury.

Unknown England Faced With Black Caps Test

Ben Foakes has seemingly been third in line behind Buttler and Bairstow in recent years and he was set to play his first Test on English soil in their absence, but rotten luck on the injury front has ruled him out for most of the summer – meaning James Bracey will make his debut against New Zealand.

Ollie Robinson also seems likely to make his first England appearance in the opening Test and there is a hefty slice of the unknown about the hosts going into battle.

New Zealand have been performing well enough over a long enough period of time to have qualified for the World Test Championship final, and a two-match series with England is the perfect preparation to take on India, with that showpiece coming later this month at the Rose Bowl.

Given that the Black Caps will be playing three successive Tests this month, with very little time between each, the tourists may rest and rotate their line-up over this two-Test series, with Trent Boult a confirmed absentee for the opener, good news for England, while he is doubtful for the second.

Black Caps Look Too Big

So what of the first Test? England have only ever lost five Test series to New Zealand and are back on home territory, where they enjoyed back-to-back wins over Pakistan and West Indies last summer, but some will find it difficult to justify 4/5 favouritism for the hosts, given their fragile batting line-up and the absence of key players.

Kane Williamson’s men beat the same opponents (Pakistan and West Indies) more convincingly on home turf, with three of their four Test victories coming by a margin of an innings.

Add to that the fact that they are unbeaten in the last three Test series against England, winning the last two Down Under while their 2015 visit to these shores ended in a draw, and 41/20 about an away victory looks more than tempting.

Admittedly that price had been bigger before recent events transpired but is still big enough, while 19/5 for the draw is probably not big enough given England rarely make matches last that long, and the weather is improving considerably.

One factor usually in England’s favour for home series is the struggles that opposition batsmen have with the swinging ball, but conditions in New Zealand are not too dissimilar while there is plenty of experience of the County Championship within their ranks.

Nicholls’ Form Worth a Chance

It is tough to argue with either favourite for the top team batsman markets with no-one close to Joe Root in either class or form in England’s ranks, while Kane Williamson is in as good nick as anyone out there having notched a century and two double-hundreds in his last four innings.

The markets reflect the pair’s standing though and it may just be worth taking a chance on Henry Nicholls to top score for the Black Caps in their first innings, as he has compiled scores of 174, 56, 11 and 157 in his last four innings and averages 53.75 against the Three Lions.

The 29-year-old has yet to play Test cricket in England but at a price of 5/1 he might just be worth taking a chance on.

*All odds correct at time of writing

Rob has around 20 years journalism experience and has written and commentated on the likes of football, cricket and rugby. He also has an impressive background in racquet sports and regularly provides content on the likes of tennis and badminton.

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