Testing times for New Zealand ahead of finale

New Zealand face some awkward choices even before the third and final Test starts here on Thursday as they look to square the series against England at 1-1.

New Zealand suffered a morale-sapping six-wicket defeat in the second Test at Old Trafford, a match they dominated until a second innings collapse against Monty Panesar paved the way for an England fightback.

They head into the series climax with questions regarding their batsmen.

James Marshall, their number three in the drawn first Test at Lord’s and again in Manchester, has been out of form and suffered two more failures during last week’s tour match against Northamptonshire.

And number six Daniel Flynn, who lost two teeth after being hit by a bouncer from James Anderson at Old Trafford, has also been struggling for runs.

Peter Fulton, who hasn’t played a Test since January, is pressing for a recall after making a first innings fifty against Northamptonshire.

New Zealand are also having to tackle a bowling dilemma as they build up for the Trent Bridge finale.

Tim Southee missed the second Test with illness but Iain O’Brien, the teenager seamer’s stand-in, performed admirably in testing conditions.

However, it is New Zealand’s batting, for all the class of Ross Taylor’s Test-best 154 not out in the first innings at Old Trafford, that remains more of a problem for coach John Bracewell and captain Daniel Vettori.

“We were really pleased with the way Fulton went [against Northamptonshire] and he certainly comes into contention,” said Bracewell.

As for Flynn, Bracewell said: “He will recover quickly. It’s just whether we match up Fulton’s form against him and James Marshall.”

New Zealand’s coach urged his players to learn from Andrew Strauss, the opener whose well-paced century was the backbone of England’s successful run chase which saw them win with more than a day to spare at Old Trafford.

“It was an excellent innings of control in difficult conditions, teaching our guys what should and shouldn’t be done in trying circumstances.”

England, for their seventh straight Test against the Black Caps after a 2-1 series win, are set to field an unchanged side with fast bowler Chris Tremlett again likely to drop out of a 12-man squad.

If they do it will be the first time since 1884/85, when they won a series in Australia 3-2, that England have used the same XI in five consecutive Tests.

However, such consistency shouldn’t mask the fact that at Old Trafford they again put themselves under pressure by failing to score 400 in the first innings for the 11th successive Test.

Middle-order batsman Paul Collingwood has looked in particularly wretched touch lately but, after surviving a strong lbw appeal from Vettori, showed typical grit in seeing England home with 24 not out.

And the Durham all-rounder, with no reserve batsman in the squad, has been given another chance to end a run of 22 innings without a Test hundred.

“You draw on your knowledge of previous bad patches,” said Collingwood.

“I look back at some of them and I was a lot lower than I am now.
I have worked hard, had a couple of days off as well and I feel raring to go.”

England left-arm quick Ryan Sidebottom, so often New Zealand’s nemesis, will be looking forward to bowling on his home ground.

However the Kiwis’ pace attack, not to mention left-arm spinner Vettori, have caused England problems and if they are bowling in swinging conditions will fancy their chances.

Should New Zealand get themselves into a strong position again, the challenge for them will be to see it through to the end.

Vettori has spoken of their third innings problems and the way in which vice-captain Brendon McCullum tried to put a positive gloss on the second Test suggested there was still work to be done on New Zealand’s self-belief.

“In a strange sort of way, Old Traford was a confidence booster for us,” McCullum said. “We put ourselves in a position where we should have won.

“That was something that, heading into the Test, we may not have whole-heartedly believed.” - AFP

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