Mount Maunganui (AFP): A depleted New Zealand under new captain Tim Southee face the daunting prospect of trying to halt in-form England when a two-Test series begins with a day-night encounter in Mount Maunganui on Thursday.
England have won nine of 10 Tests since New Zealander Brendon McCullum took charge as head coach, with the Black Caps the first to suffer under his attacking “Bazball” revolution last year.
England will be favourites to inflict similar treatment on Southee’s side in the fast bowler’s maiden home series as skipper.
Preparations for both sides have been disrupted by a cyclone which hit New Zealand and triggered a state of emergency on Tuesday, but the Test is expected to go ahead.
England, with Ben Stokes taking charge, swept the home series 3-0 against New Zealand in June as the new skipper-coach regime signalled their attacking intent by easily chasing down more than 275 in the final innings of all three Tests.
The New Zealand-born Stokes then led England to a Test victory over India and a 2-1 series win against South Africa.
His side enter this series with confidence sky-high after an unprecedented 3-0 sweep in Pakistan, while New Zealand have failed to win in their last five Tests, beginning with the three in England.
New Zealand drew both of their most recent Tests in Pakistan and Southee will have to lead an inexperienced attack without pace bowling partner Kyle Jamieson, ruled out with a stress fracture of the back, an injury he first suffered on the tour to England.
Seamer Matt Henry, who is expecting the birth of his first child, will also miss out.
“It does look like a bad bit of news,” coach Gary Stead said of Jamieson’s injury.
“We’ve tried to be reasonably conservative with Kyle right through his rehab process, to make sure we gave him the best chance of coming back.
“He was tracking beautifully and it came as a real surprise to us.”
– Brook’s history bid –
England’s bowling line-up will have experience to burn in seam spearheads James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who have 1,241 Test wickets between them, as they look to win a series in New Zealand for the first time since 2008.
Southee, who took over when leading batsman Kane Williamson relinquished the Test captaincy before the Pakistan series, will be partnered by Neil Wagner and Blair Tickner.
Stead said that he would be “very surprised” if one of the uncapped late seam bowling call-ups, Jacob Duffy or Scott Kuggeleijn, did not make a debut.
England showed their buccaneering intent last week in their only warm-up fixture, blasting 465 off 69.2 overs against a New Zealand XI, with Harry Brook hitting five consecutive sixes in one over on his way to 97.
Brook made hundreds in all three Pakistan Tests and will become just the second England batsman after Ken Barrington in the 1960s to achieve centuries in four consecutive Tests if he repeats the feat at the Bay Oval.
The day-night match is expected to begin on time at 2:00 pm (0100 GMT) Thursday, despite the weather. A few showers are forecast for Mount Maunganui on the first day, before clearing.
Some New Zealand players were not able to join the squad in Mount Maunganui until Tuesday afternoon because of travel difficulties related to the weather.
England’s players have been unable to practise on the Bay Oval ground, which has remained covered.
“It’s not that different to England, to be honest,” joked Anderson, who has 675 Test wickets, of the rain.
The second Test will take place in Wellington from February 24.
New Zealand (from): Tim Southee (capt), Tom Blundell, Michael Bracewell, Devon Conway, Jacob Duffy, Scott Kuggeleijn, Tom Latham, Daryl Mitchell, Henry Nicholls, Ish Sodhi, Blair Tickner, Neil Wagner, Kane Williamson, Will Young
England (from): Ben Stokes (capt), Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ben Foakes, Will Jacks, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Ollie Pope, Matthew Potts, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Olly Stone