Joe Root believes there will be no better way for England to prepare to regain the Ashes in Australia later this year than by completing a home clean sweep of New Zealand and India.
The England captain will lead his side in the first of a two-match series against New Zealand at Lord’s on Wednesday, with five more Tests against India before the English season is finished.
India, top of the Test rankings, and second-placed New Zealand will contest the inaugural World Test Championship final at Southampton, southern England, later this month.
England, and many of their supporters, have long given the impression that matches against arch-rivals Australia are the only Tests that really count, with everything else a ‘warm-up’.
But such a viewpoint was labelled “limited, narrow and delusional” by former England captain Mike Atherton in The Times on Tuesday.
Root, however, saw no conflict between England’s short and long-term goals.
“There’s going to be constant conversations about Australia throughout this summer,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“There’s no getting away from that. We’ve said for a long time now we’re planning towards that series. As an English fan, as an English player, it is such an iconic series and one that holds so much weight.
“You talk about readying a side – winning seven Test matches before going to Australia is the best way of doing that, filling the side with confidence.”
The key batsman added: “Every Test means a hell of a lot to these players, it means a hell of a lot to me and that (the Ashes) certainly won’t be in our thoughts when we are out there playing these games.”
And yet the hosts have chosen not to be at full-strength for the New Zealand opener, a match that marks the return of spectators to international cricket in England – with capacity capped at 25 percent, around 7,500 spectators per day – after the coronavirus pandemic saw all their home matches last year played behind closed doors.
Admittedly, World Cup-winners Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer have been ruled out through injury but England have also rested several players following their stints in the Indian Premier League, including wicketkeepers Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow.
The absence of the two glovemen and the hamstring injury suffered while slipping on Surrey’s dressing-room floor by Ben Foakes, England’s keeper for much of this year’s 3-1 series loss in India, has helped pave the way for Gloucestershire’s James Bracey to make a Test debut.
New Zealand’s first match at Lord’s since their agonising 2019 World Cup final defeat by England, will see them bidding for just their second win in 18 Tests at the ‘home of cricket’.
While formidable at home, where they have won 17 of their last 23 Tests, the Black Caps have been less successful on their travels with series successes against Zimbabwe and Pakistan overshadowed by six defeats from six Tests against India and Australia.
England have dominated New Zealand over the years and have a pretty lop-sided head-to-head record against the Kiwis
England vs New Zealand head-to-head record
|Matches played||England win||Draws||New Zealand win|
England have not lost a home Test series since 2014, but were New Zealand to end that record it would be an ideal way to go into their showpiece match against India.
“There is always room to improve,” said New Zealand captain and outstanding batsman Kane Williamson.
“We have a tough challenge against England and then India,” he added ahead of a match where opener Devon Conway is set for a Test debut.
“We know how clinical England are, certainly in their own conditions.”
The Kiwis though have a poor record at Lord’s where they have just one win – back in 1999 – from 17 attempts, a venue where they also suffered a heartache in the World Cup final two years ago.
“It was a fantastic game of cricket. It is a different side and there has been some time since that day.
“Our focus is on the cricket we want to play as a Test side and there is certainly no thought of that.
“We were both part of a fantastic game that was deciding largely by things largely outside both of the teams’ control,” he added in a reference to the freak extra runs England scored when a throw from the outfield deflected off Ben Stokes’ bat for a boundary.
“You look back fondly and having that match played at a ground like Lord’s I suppose adds to it.
“Every time you get the opportunity to play here is a really special thing – ‘the home of cricket’ – and for a few guys it is their first time at Lord’s and they are certainly soaking it up. It is pretty cool, despite it being a bit unique with bubble life.
“It will be great to have crowds back,” said Williamson ahead of a match that will see spectators returning to international cricket in England for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic.
He subsequently confirmed at a news conference that South Africa-born batsman Devon Conway, who averages nearly 48 in all first-class cricket, would make his Test debut.
Conway also has a one-day international average of 75, albeit from just three matches, with a corresponding figure of 59.12 in Twenty20 internationals at a commanding strike-rate of 151.11.
The 29-year-old has been preferred to Tom Blundell or Durham’s Will Young as Tom Latham’s opening partner, with Williamson saying: “It’s a really exciting opportunity for Devon.
“He’s been involved with the team over the last year in the white-ball formats and done extremely well. He’s an experienced player. He’s played a lot of first-class cricket and he gets his opportunity to make his debut at the ‘home of cricket’.”
Earlier, Williamson said of New Zealand’s Test record at Lord’s: “The thoughts aren’t to those sorts of stats...they don’t count for too much.”
England have not lost a home Test series since 2014 and Williamson, who scored a Test hundred at Lord’s the following year, said: “We still know the challenge is a fierce one.”
(With AFP inputs)
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