England have had plenty going on for them off the field and it is imperative that they pull themselves together against a strong New Zealand team. © Getty Images

England have had plenty going on for them off the field and it is imperative that they pull themselves together against a strong New Zealand team. © Getty Images

The last time New Zealand toured England, they were blanked 2-0 in a two-Test series. Since then, however, plenty has changed and when the two sides meet in the first Test of their new series at Lord’s, starting on Thursday (May 21), they would have come in on the back of very contrasting runs in international cricket.

Since that home triumph in May 2013, England have gone on to win an Ashes series at home, but were then whitewashed 5-0 in Australia and lost at home to Sri Lanka, before beating India at home, and, most recently, drawing a three-Test series in the West Indies, 1-1.

New Zealand, meanwhile, have been on a roll and established themselves as a force to be reckoned with by going undefeated in six consecutive Test series. They ended 2014 with five wins for the calendar year to make it their most successful year ever in the format. They then put up a smashing run to the final of the 2015 World Cup even as England suffered an early exit, the loss to Bangladesh signifying their remarkable dip.

England have had plenty going on for them off the field too, mostly negative, and it is imperative that they pull themselves together against a strong New Zealand team. Alastair Cook, their captain, after copping plenty of criticism due to an extended lean run, made some amends with a century and a couple of fifties in the Caribbean, but the pressure has hardly gone off.

Cook might be a shoo-in at the start of the batting order, but Jonathan Trott, who opened for them in the West Indies, has retired, and Adam Lyth, the left-handed opener from Yorkshire, is primed for his Test debut. Cook and Lyth would have their task cut out against the new-ball combine of Tim Southee and Trent Boult, possibly the best new-ball attack in the world at the moment.

But Gary Ballance has been a steadying presence and has proved his mettle with consistent performances, while Joe Root will lend solidity to the middle order.

Mark Wood, the Durham pacer, is another of the fresh faces in the squad. However, his debut is unlikely at Lord’s, with James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Jordan almost certain to do pace duties.

For the visitors, Martin Guptill is all set to play his first Test in nearly two years. Guptill was last seen in Test whites when New Zealand toured England last. Since then, poor returns have kept him out, but Guptill was in cracking form at the World Cup and recently scored his first first-class double century when out for Derbyshire. If Guptill comes in, either Tom Latham or Hamish Rutherford might have to sit out.

That batting order wears a solid look whether or not Guptill comes in at the top of the order, with Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum in the mix and Ross Taylor and BJ Watling adding a fair bit of class. The New Zealand pace attack is no weaker, with Doug Bracewell, Neil Wagner and Matt Henry providing options behind Southee and Boult, and Mark Craig a good offspin alternative.

Corey Anderson had picked up an injury during his stint with Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League and, if he isn’t ready for action, it could open the door for Mitchell Santner, the uncapped allrounder, to make his first international appearance.

The New Zealanders warmed up with wins against Somerset and Worcestershire, even though several members that are likely to take the field on Thursday were absent due to their IPL commitments – something England would be wary of.

New Zealand would hope they manage to continue their trend of strong performances as they seek to improve their record in England, where they have won just four times in 52 Test matches. And they would that beating England at home would be anything but easy.

Teams (from)
England: Alastair Cook (capt), Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Chris Jordan, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Mark Wood.

New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (capt), BJ Watling, Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Mark Craig, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Luke Ronchi (wk), Hamish Rutherford, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, Kane Williamson.