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Cricket news - England aspire Test record makeover in beautiful New Zealand

England are set to hand a debut to Dom Sibley whereas Lockie Ferguson misses out for New Zealand

With its stunning scenery, low-key vibe, picturesque grounds and fine hospitality, New Zealand may be one of the best tours on the international circuit, but it has not been a happy hunting ground for England of late. They have won just one of their last four series there and were humbled 18 months ago in Auckland, bowled out for 58, their sixth lowest Test score, en route to a series defeat. Idyllic and beautiful New Zealand may be, but for England, results there haven't great.

The tourists embark on this series with a new look and a fresh feel, however. Just four players from the horrible innings defeat at Eden Park in March 2018 remain and the two-match rubber will be Chris Silverwood's first Test assignment as head coach. Already his influence has been felt with a three-day first-class match in the lead-up -- a pleasing move away from the 15-a-side messabouts that England have used as preparation on recent overseas tours. Perhaps most importantly, though, England are set to select a side which looks a better balanced Test team than has been the case for much of Joe Root's reign as captain.

But what does "balance" in this context mean exactly? The ideal structure of a Test team is generally understood to consist of five specialist batsmen, an all-rounder, a wicketkeeper, and four frontline bowlers. It's not the only way to set up a successful side of course but that balance has strong merits. It covers all bases, with five bowlers and a deep batting line up, and most importantly, with that sort of make-up, the responsibilities are clear: the batsmen are expected to score the runs and the bowlers are expected to take the wickets.

India, currently the form team in Test cricket, largely adopt this formula. By contrast, England's Test team has rarely taken that shape due to the number of strong all-rounders at their disposal. Having so many players with all-round ability is unusual and, on the face of things, a positive. After all, the more all-rounders you play, the more flexibility and the more options a captain has.

But when you have four quality all-rounders, the temptation is to pick them all regardless of whether they can play different roles and what it means for the rest of the side. And successfully fitting all four of Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler in the same batting order has proved difficult. Arguably, they are all best suited to number six but they can't all bat there.

As a result, all of these players have, at differing times, been shunted up and down the order and been asked to play different roles in the team, some of which have not suited their skills. Moeen, for example, is a fine player but his positive game is not best suited to batting at number three, where he was promoted against India last year. Unsurprisingly, he didn't succeed and was moved back down the order to number seven in short order, a position one too low for a man of his ability.

That sort of chopping and changing was a characteristic of England's Test team under Trevor Bayliss which created instability both for the players themselves and for the rest of the side. Of those four players, over the past two years only Stokes, with a batting average of 35 and a bowling average of 29, has performed consistently.

The others have not. When Bairstow, Moeen and Buttler have been picked as specialist batsmen in the top five, they have failed to deliver the returns specialist batsmen are expected to make. Take Buttler as an example. An average of 35 over the past two years is fine enough for a wicket-keeper batsman at number seven. An average of 35 is not good enough for a specialist batsman at number five, a position he occupied at the start of this year.

England will revert to the tried and trusted Test formula: five batsmen, two all-rounders in Stokes and Buttler, who has the gloves, and four bowlers, although Sam Curran, who looks to have got the nod over Chris Woakes, is an all-rounder too at number eight. It just feels like a well balanced Test match team.

Which is all rather irrelevant if those selected don't play well or collapse in a heap as they did 18 months ago in Auckland. New Zealand, with the superstar Kane Williamson and a high-class bowling attack at their disposal, will certainly feel confident of continuing their strong recent record at home. Of their last 12 series in New Zealand, they have won ten of them. Better balanced England may be, but they will still start as underdogs.

When: Thursday November 21, 2019. 11 AM Local Time, 3.30 AM IST

Where: Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui

What to expect: For the inaugural Test at Bay Oval, the pitch is expected to be good for batting - although perhaps a tad slow - as it has proven in New Zealand's domestic cricket. As the match wears on, increased spin is expected but for the first three days, life is set to be hard work for the bowlers on both sides. The forecast is pleasingly warm and sunny for the duration of the game.

Team News

New Zealand

New Zealand have five high quality fast-bowlers to pick from but Kane Williamson confirmed that they are going with Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner -- the three who have been so instrumental in their strong home record over the past six years. That means Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson will miss out this time round. Mitchell Santner has also got the nod ahead of Todd Astle.

Playing XI: Tom Latham, Jeet Raval, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult


England will give a debut to Dom Sibley at the top of the order, the latest in a seemingly unending line of openers to be given the chance to develop a Test career. Joe Denly, who made encouraging strides in the Ashes as an opener, will occupy the number three slot where he is arguably better suited. Pope, after playing his first two Tests against India in 2018 at number four, a position he had not occupied for Surrey at that point, gets a second bite at the cherry in the more comfortable environs of number six.

Possible XI: Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad

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