England are embarking on a new era and we will all have to start forming opinions about what they’re trying to do based on what happens against New Zealand tonight and in the days/nights ahead.
Here are four ‘areas’ to focus on. (Sorry that this preview is very England-centric. We’ll try and broaden our coverage a bit once they start getting battered by the home team.)
A new opener
England have picked Dom Sibley, a fairly traditional sort of opening batsman.
This is a very simple area to form an opinion on. If you’re an England supporter, you pretty much just want to see him make some runs.
This will be Joe Denly.
It feels a little like England don’t want to bring Zak Crawley into the side as well as Sibley purely so that they still have options.
If Sibley fails, Crawley will unavoidably become an opener in a few months’ time. If Sibley succeeds, Crawley will probably still get picked – but at three, instead of Denly.
In other words, Denly is in the fridge, keeping Crawley in the freezer. We explain the fridges ‘n’ freezers principle here.
We’re really starting to warm to Denly though. He was a weird pick in the first place and he’s not made too many runs since then. However, he has played some important innings and also seems utterly committed to not being the worst batsman in the side. We rather like that. It’s a good and admirable quality. We hope it carries him a long way.
Ollie Pope – Jos Buttler – Jonny Bairstow – Ben Foakes. Where exactly on the number-six-batting-to-wicketkeeping continuum will England eventually end up?
Pope is only very barely a wicketkeeper and is therefore only ever likely to fulfil the role for England in an emergency. Buttler is not a great deal further along the scale than that, but he is currently Mr Gloves.
Despite doing different jobs, the performances of each man will have an impact on the other. Buttler could keep terribly and be dropped for Bairstow or Foakes. He could also keep terribly and be dropped as keeper while simultaneously ousting Pope as number six. Or maybe he’ll both bat well and keep well and Pope will be replaced by Bairstow.
Who frigging knows?
The other bowler
We did a piece for Wisden last year about how England really needed to find a specialist old ball bowler, like Neil Wagner.
We suggested a short-pitch bowler might have been what was needed back then, but while Jofra Archer ticks that box pretty well at the minute, he’s also inked in to open the bowling and he can’t do everything.
England possibly had Saqib Mahmood’s aim-at-the-stumps full-pitched slattery in mind until he missed the first warm-up match with a migraine, which means we’re back with the usual misshapes at first-change.
Chris Woakes’ beard doesn’t seem to have convinced anyone, so Sam Curran will be given a chance to play like a left-arm Chris Woakes instead.
Curran’s undeniably a serious cricketer, but he never seems to be quite the right choice. He is a better batsman than most of the bowlers and a better bowler than all of the batsmen. He seems to get the nod cumulatively rather than through any specific brilliance.
England will hope that Curran will be able to fill whatever holes manifest themselves during the Test.
He’s basically Polyfilla.
Footnote: This is the Day One ‘through the night’ thread if you find yourself awake with something to say.