NZ must find answers to England's pace
England's pace bowlers James Anderson and Steven Finn are likely to be crucial determinants in the test series against New Zealand when the first of three matches begins at University Oval in Dunedin on Wednesday.
Both Anderson and Finn were rested in the four-day match against the New Zealand XI, which the hosts won by three wickets with less than two overs remaining, but proved more than destructive in the limited overs series prior to the tests.
Apart from the opening one-day match which New Zealand won, Anderson and Finn provided a masterclass in hostile fast bowling, giving the New Zealand batsmen little to hit on the small grounds while creating pressure and taking wickets.
Anderson's control of the seam position and the swing he extracted created doubt for New Zealand's batsmen, while the tall Finn bowled back of a length and was menacingly accurate at top pace.
As such, the duo, to be supported by Stuart Broad and possibly one of Graham Onions or Chris Woakes, should prove a headache for New Zealand's batsmen, whose frailties against elite fast bowling were ruthlessly exposed by the South African attack earlier this year.
Brendon McCullum's side slumped to innings defeats in both tests on their tour of South Africa, and were skittled for 45 in Cape Town with Proteas paceman Vernon Philander taking five wickets for seven runs.
South Africa seamer Dale Steyn did the damage in the second test in Port Elizabeth, taking eight for 65.
New Zealand's batsmen have also had trouble occupying the crease for long periods to tire out opposing attacks, while giving their own bowlers a rest.
Even century-making batsmen have scored their runs in a hurry and not lingered to post truly big scores to anchor their team's innings.
The Mike Hesson-coached side will also bring a re-jigged top order to Dunedin, with the recalled Peter Fulton expected to partner debutant Hamish Rutherford.
Left arm spinner Bruce Martin is also expected to make his debut at the age of 32, while allrounder Doug Bracewell will undergo a late fitness test after he cut his foot on a glass while clearing up following a house party.
While England team director Andy Flower bemoaned a "sloppy" defeat in the four-day tour match, which saw the top order struggle in both innings, the visitors have enjoyed a relaxed buildup, marvelling at coastal Queenstown's natural beauty and undertaking touristy excursions.
Captain Alastair Cook leads a strong and settled lineup galvanised by their breakthrough series win away to India, with only a minor selection headache over who should be the skipper's opening partner.
Pundits have clamoured for 22-year-old talent Joe Root to earn his second test cap after an impressive 73 on debut against India in Nagpur, but Flower gave strong backing to four-test opener Nick Compton, albeit without confirming his spot in Dunedin.
"You've got to remember Joe Root has played one test match," Flower said after the Queenstown warm-up. "I think everyone should keep a little calm about his prospects."
Following Dunedin, New Zealand host England in the second test in Wellington from March 14, with the third and final test in Auckland starting March 22.
New Zealand (possible): Brendon McCullum (captain), Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Dean Brownlie, BJ Watling, Doug Bracewell, Bruce Martin, Tim Southee, Trent Boult.
England (possible): Alastair Cook (captain), Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Joe Root, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Steven Finn, James Anderson.