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Daunting England challenge big worry for NZ than Lord’s

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LONDON: New Zealand captain Kane Williamson insisted the ‘fierce challenge’ posed by Joe Root’s England side will be uppermost in his mind rather than his team’s record at Lord’s when he leads the tourists in the first Test at the ‘home of cricket’ on Wednesday.

The match will be New Zealand’s first at Lord’s since their agonising Super Over loss to England in the 2019 World Cup final, when the scores were level at the end of 50 overs.

New Zealand will face India in the inaugural World Test Championship final in Southampton starting on June 18 after this two-match series, but their Test record at Lord’s is poor with just one win — back in 1999 — from 17 attempts.

Williamson, recalling New Zealand loss in the 2019 final on boundary countback, told reporters on Tuesday: “It was a fantastic game of cricket. It is a different side and there has been some time since that day. Our focus is on the cricket we want to play as a Test side and there is certainly no thought of that.

“We were both part of a fantastic game that was deciding largely by things largely outside both of the teams’ control,” he added in a reference to the freak extra runs England scored when a throw from the outfield deflected off Ben Stokes’ bat for a boundary.

Nevertheless, Williamson added: “You look back fondly and having that match played at a ground like Lord’s I suppose adds to it.

“The guys are really excited to be back here. It is always a pleasure to have the opportunity to play at Lord’s. Every time you get the opportunity to play here is a really special thing — ‘the home of cricket’ and for a few guys it is their first time at Lord’s and they are certainly soaking it up. It is pretty cool, despite it being a bit unique with bubble life.

“It will be great to have crowds back,” said Williamson ahead of a match that will see spectators returning to international cricket in England for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic.

Turning to New Zealand’s Test record at Lord’s, he said: “The thoughts aren’t to those sorts of stats…they don’t count for too much.”

England have not lost a home Test series since 2014 and Williamson, who scored a Test hundred at Lord’s the following year, said: “We still know the challenge is a fierce one. England are incredibly clinical in their conditions and there are a number of things to look to adjust to in this part of the world. We’re looking forward to that challenge.

The hosts will field an attack missing injured Stokes (finger) and Jofra Archer (elbow) after been reluctant recently to deploy James Anderson and Stuart Broad, their most successful all-time Test bowlers, in the same XI.

They’ve also rested several players following their stints in the Indian Premier League, including senior wicket-keepers Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow.

Their absence, together with the freak torn hamstring suffered by Ben Foakes, England’s keeper for most of their 3-1 series loss in India this year, when he slipped on the Surrey dressing room floor, have paved the way for Gloucestershire’s James Bracey to make a Test debut.

Root was hit on the right hand batting in the nets on Monday by a throw-down from head coach Chris Silverwood, now in charge of picking the team after England ditched national selector Ed Smith.

But Root, following treatment, told reporters he was ‘all right’ and England expect him to be fit.

Broad, meanwhile, will be England’s vice-captain for the first Test after the veteran seamer was dramatically dropped from the opening Test of the 2020 English season only to end that campaign having averaged a meagre 13.41 with the ball and gone past 500 Test wickets.

“Stuart has been a senior player for a long time,” Root told reporters on Tuesday. “He speaks extremely well, he’s got a very good cricket brain, and captaincy experience within the short format.”New Zealand expect Trent Boult to miss the two-match series in the hope the left-arm seamer — who only arrives in the UK on Friday after resting up following the IPL — will be fresh for the WTC final.

Probable teams:

ENGLAND: Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Joe Root (captain), Ollie Pope, Dan Lawrence, James Bracey, Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, James Anderson.

NEW ZEALAND: Tom Latham, Devon Conway, Kane Williamson (captain), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling, Colin de Grandhomme, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Matt Henry.

Umpires: Richard Kettleborough (England) and Michael Gough (England).

TV umpire: Richard Illingworth (England).

Match referee: Chris Broad (England).

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2021

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