The wait is almost over.
Wednesday 2nd June sees the return of international cricket, after what feels like an eternity.
For the first time in 617 days, an English cricket ground will welcome spectators to a home Test match. That feels unbelievably good to write given everything that’s happened since the fifth Ashes Test of 2019.
Regardless of the result, this series is a massive victory in itself.
With no World Test Championship points at stake and New Zealand’s grand final with India just around the corner, those not in the know could be forgiven for describing this two-match series as somewhat inconsequential – as a ‘warm up’ for the visitors. England also have India arriving in a couple of months’ time, and an Ashes tour down under at the end of the year to look forward to.
Anyone making such a claim, however, would be wrong.
Fans are finally returning to cricket, with 18,000 expected at Edgbaston, and a series against New Zealand rarely disappoints. Aside from the fact that just about everyone likes the New Zealand cricket team, they’ve become one of the best (if not the best) Test sides in the world over the past couple of years. They also have one of the most lethal seam-bowling attacks around, while their batting line-up is just about as ‘pure’ and classical as it gets.
This series represents a great opportunity for England to test themselves against the best. If England can beat New Zealand with a number of their key players missing, Joe Root will be feeling pretty good about things. He’ll be keen for runs himself, while there are plenty of individuals with points to prove who will be desperate to make an impression.
An opportunity to impress
England’s IPL players are unavailable for this series, meaning that a number of first-choice regulars will be missing. Moeen Ali, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Jonny Bairstow, and Sam Curran are all sitting out, while Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer are also absent through injury. We all wish Stokes and Archer the best with their recoveries, the latter who looks set to sit out the entire summer to ensure his fitness for the T20 World Cup and Ashes series.
That all means we’ve got a few gaps in the side. A number of individuals will, therefore, be looking to stake their claims for a spot in the India series and beyond. James Bracey, Olly Stone, and Ollie Robinson will all be keen to make good impressions, while Ben Foakes’ unfortunate recent injury has opened the door for Sam Billings and Haseeb Hameed to join up with the squad.
England squad in full: Joe Root (c), Jimmy Anderson, Sam Billings, James Bracey, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Dom Sibley, Olly Stone, Mark Wood
Some of those individuals have already made an impact in an England shirt, of course; Stone’s speeds while bowling on sandpits in India really made him stand out, while Lawrence’s performances in Sri Lanka were also encouraging. Billings has long been involved in England’s setup, while Hameed’s inclusion is great news for any cricket lover.
But there are a few names in there who fans – outside of England, at least – may be less familiar with. Bracey looks set to take the gloves, although exactly where he slots into the order remains unclear. Given the choice, he’d likely bat at three or open, but asking your Test keeper to do that is not generally the done thing.
Dom Sibley could sit the first Test out following his injury earlier this year, while the balance of the bowling attack will also have Root and Silverwood scratching their heads. Objectively, you would think that a four-pronged attack of Anderson, Broad, Stone, and Wood would give England the best chance of taking twenty wickets, but that leaves a slightly longer-than-ideal tail. Even including Jack Leach wouldn’t do much to solve that, despite his batting heroics of two summers ago.
Robinson can, therefore, possibly expect to slot in at eight with our aforementioned quartet rotating across the two games. The middle-order may well be stacked full of the relatively inexperienced, too, with Lawrence, Billings, and Bracey all likely to slot in there.
Predicted XI for Lord’s: Burns, Crawley, Lawrence, Root (c), Pope, Billings, Bracey (wk), Robinson, Broad, Stone, Anderson
The moment we’ve all been waiting for
We could talk about playing elevens, matchups, and Kane Williamson’s late cut until 10:59 on the first day. But everyone knows that this series transcends such matters.
Test cricket. Fans in grounds. Jerusalem. Need we say any more?
It’s going to be tight but we’re predicting Rooty’s boys to come out with a 1-0 win.