England in New Zealand: 'Tourists must not think about Ashes now'

By Jonathan AgnewBBC cricket correspondent
Joe Root, Chris Silverwood and Ben Stokes talk
Captain Joe Root (left) and coach Chris Silverwood (centre) say they are already planning for the 2020-21 Ashes
First Test: New Zealand v England
Venue: Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui Date: 21-25 November Time: 22:00 GMT (20-24 Nov)
Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, Radio 4 LW, online and BBC Sport app; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

England's series in New Zealand does not count for World Test Championship points, but it is still an important one for Joe Root's side.

For England, with new coach Chris Silverwood, this series is about getting those building blocks into position for the winter tour of South Africa and then beyond.

We hear a lot of England talking about the Ashes and going to Australia, but that is two years away. They should not even be thinking about that at the moment.

The Ashes is down the line. There is a lot more important cricket to play before we get there, and there are things that have got to be sorted out.

What style will England play?

I like what I am hearing from England.

It sounds as if they are going to try and be a little more measured in their approach, especially with the bat, and look to play a five-day Test as a five-day Test.

Last winter, especially in Sri Lanka, we heard a lot about seizing the initiative from the bowlers when they are on top, but that is not really the way in a Test.

You have got to be careful. You have got to give respect to the bowlers. You have got to see the bowlers off and wait for them to tire.

Certainly captain Root and Ashley Giles, the director of men's cricket, have both talked about refocusing on the way Test cricket is being played, and that is very obvious in the top order, with Root going back again to number four, and their new-look opening partnership.

The one-two-three seems set to be Dom Sibley, Rory Burns and Joe Denly. They are not going to be the sort of batsmen who empty bars; these three players are of a temperament and a style that are suited to Test cricket.

Dom Sibley
Warwickshire opener Dom Sibley is likely to make his England debut in the first Test

Are they good enough? Burns has given indication that he has been, Denly ended last season well and Sibley looks the part and scored a century in the first warm-up match.

Test cricket is a very different challenge but at least as far as England's outlook is concerned, that looks to be more measured.

Batsmen are going to have to be prised out. Batsmen will have to be patient. If the ball is presenting difficulties, the batsmen are going to try and see it through.

Can England finally nail that down?

Curran or Woakes?

Sam Curran and Chris Woakes
Sam Curran has played four Tests away from home, while Chris Woakes has played 12

Curran has a golden arm. He gets people out - caught down the leg side, hitting a catch to point - however it may be, he has got that knack. He has got that different angle, too, with being a left-armer.

Does he have the pace for Test cricket? Does he need the ball to swing in order for him to be effective because he does not quite have that pace and height?

The answer is yes, as we saw in Barbados, when he was picked - wrongly - ahead of Stuart Broad. England thought the ball would swing there with the cross breeze and it did not.

The warm-up matches in New Zealand have been played with a Kookaburra ball. On a very green pitch, it did virtually nothing, but Curran still picked up three wickets.

Woakes does not have a good record overseas; again we go back to the ball and again, he needs the ball to swing.

It looks as though Curran has got his nose ahead but that position is far from nailed down and it could change in the course of the series.

New roles for Buttler & Leach?

Jos Buttler
Jos Buttler scored a century for England in their final warm-up match against New Zealand A

Jonny Bairstow is pretty mortified at having been left out of the Test squad but his figures recently simply did not support his inclusion.

I know he is working hard at his game - he has been showing me various videos of the kind of footwork he has been practising to try and make sure that he does not get bowled as often as he had been - but he is going to have to sit back, wait and watch.

Jos Buttler will be keeping wicket now and he scored a good hundred in the final warm-up match against New Zealand A. That will give him confidence, but it is not an easy challenge to score hundreds and keep wicket.

As for Jack Leach, I am not sure he can expect much in the way of spin in these two Test matches, but he has got to do a tight holding job.

He must allow Jofra Archer particularly and Broad to have a bit of a breather, so they can come in hard. Leach showed a lot of patience in the warm-up match.

He is gaining in confidence; his batting in the summer might have given him that.

It is going to be very interesting to see the two bowling attacks, because that really is what this series is all about.

Coping with New Zealand's impressive attack

The word from the locals is the Bay Oval pitch is likely to be flat and hard work. New Zealand have an attack of Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Lockie Ferguson, Matt Henry - they are all fine bowlers who can cause England problems.

Ferguson has not played a Test but he impressed in the World Cup and he has some speed. If he plays, it makes a direct head-to-head with Archer, which is fascinating.

I suspect New Zealand will want Boult and Southee to open because they both swing the ball and there is a nice cross-breeze on this ground. Wagner will come rushing in and bowl his bouncers, to try and hurry the batsmen up and make them play false shots.

Their captain, Kane Williamson, is head and shoulders above the rest of the New Zealand batsmen, but he has not played much cricket because of a hip injury. It will be interesting to see how he gets on.

It is the first Test to be played on the ground here. There are plenty of England supporters here, looking for their badge of honour of watching a Test match on a new ground. It is something that we all like to do - it does not happen that often.

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