Eng­land are Test 'giants': Mccul­lum


Alas­tair Cook ex­pects Eng­land will have to work hard to ex­ert their pre­dicted su­pe­ri­or­ity against New Zealand, but op­pos­ing cap­tain Bren­don McCul­lum has la­belled the vis­it­ing side 'giants' of Test cricket as he laid down the chal­lenge to his team.

In their Test his­tory New Zealand have only eight wins against Eng­land, are cur­rently eighth in the rank­ings and two matches ago were skit­tled for 45. Cook's team, mean­while, se­cured a his­toric win in In­dia be­fore Christ­mas (some­thing Aus­tralia will find tough to match), have a top seven where only one bats­man does not av­er­age over 40, a pace at­tack that in­cludes two of the in-form quicks in the world and one of the lead­ing spin­ners on the scene.

"We know this is a huge se­ries, we are tak­ing on one of giants of the Test game and on the back of a tough South Africa se­ries we know the im­por­tance of us show­ing a fight­ing spir­it­ing for cricket in this coun­try," McCul­lum said. "They aren't one of the best teams in the world for no rea­son so we know the mag­ni­tude of the chal­lenge."

Cook is rightly con­fi­dent of the play­ers at his dis­posal, but was not go­ing to be drawn into be­liev­ing that the se­ries was a fore­gone con­clu­sion. Events of 2012 for Eng­land which, de­spite vic­tory in In­dia, in­cluded seven Test de­feats (equal­ing their worst year) and the prob­lems in­volv­ing Kevin Pi­etersen has made Cook aware how swiftly for­tunes can change.

"If we play to our po­ten­tial we're go­ing to be a hard side to beat," Cook said. "But you've got to do that to earn the right to get into good po­si­tions to win games of cricket. That's our chal­lenge, to pro­duce match-win­ning per­for­mances."

New Zealand's big­gest prob­lem has been putting con­sis­tently large to­tals on the board to give their im­prov­ing bowl­ing at­tack a chance. If you ex­clude Tests against Zim­babwe, New Zealand's score of 412 in Colombo last year (the match they won to level the se­ries) was their first to­tal of 400-plus since the tour of In­dia in 2010.

With that in mind, some struc­tural changes have taken place with McCul­lum re­turn­ing to the mid­dle or­der in an aim to stack that area with ex­pe­ri­ence. The come­back of Ross Tay­lor, whose ab­sence left a mas­sive hole in South Africa, also means that there is a less cal­low feel about the line-up although, in the end­less search of an open­ing pair, an­other new com­bi­na­tion will be tried at the top. There is a sense that New Zealand will ac­cept be­ing 20 for 2.

"We've made a cou­ple of changes to the bal­ance of a line up," McCul­lum said. "That was what we spoke about af­ter South Africa, play­ing six bat­ters and strength­en­ing that area so for us it's about mak­ing sure we get some good runs on the board to give our­selves an op­por­tu­nity with the ball. If we take it as deep as we can you never know what we can achieve late in the game.

"We needed to make sure we firm up cer­tain ar­eas and get run pro­duc­tion from our bat­ters. Adding that ex­tra bat­ter, and shift­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence to the mid­dle or­der, should en­able us to score runs later. The bowl­ing line-up has the abil­ity, on their day, to really test op­po­si­tion."

Eng­land have a world-class opener in Cook - one of the most prolific in the game at the moment - but the role of his part­ner is still to be fully ce­mented by Nick Comp­ton and pro­vides a small open­ing for New Zealand. Comp­ton passed 30 in four of his eight in­nings against In­dia (one of them un­beaten in a small run chase in Mum­bai) and Cook be­lieves he has the abil­ity to repli­cate his hunger for big hun­dreds in county cricket on the Test stage. "The starts he got there, in dif­fer­ent con­di­tions to what he's used to, show he can adapt his game to in­ter­na­tional cricket," Cook said.

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