THE BIGGEST mistake England could make in their approach to the two-Test series against New Zealand, which starts tomorrow at Lord’s, would be to treat it as a warm-up for the Ashes.
For nearly all cricket fans the renewal of hostilities with Australia represents by far the main event of a busy summer, but before they can focus on retaining the urn England must rediscover the winning habit.
They were found lacking in New Zealand earlier this year, where they only managed a 0-0 draw, and the priority now for coach Andy Flower and captain Alastair Cook has to be to put that right.
Beyond that, England will be eager to nurture Graeme Swann following his elbow surgery. The frontline spinner is a hugely important cog in the Test wheel but his shortage of match practice is a concern.
Bowlers like to ask each other “how’s it coming out?” – meaning whether the ball is leaving their hand in the way they hope. It will be very interesting to see how Swann feels in that respect.
Rain may mean Swann does not see as much action as he and England would like, though I expect he’ll play more than Tim Bresnan, who is also back from an elbow operation but looks set to carry the drinks.
Either way, the prospect of cloud and showers should mean conditions in this country prove far more productive for bowlers than they did in New Zealand.
Young batsman Joe Root has caught the eye with recent performances for Yorkshire and the England Lions, hitting 646 runs in just four first-class innings, so the stage is set for him to shine.
The step up in quality from county to Test cricket is vast, but his confidence couldn’t be higher and this series offers him the chance to stake his claim to fill the void left by Kevin Pietersen. Opener Nick Compton has enjoyed centuries in his last two Tests, so he should be full of belief too, and I can’t help thinking that, looking further down the line, it is vital he remains in good touch.
I imagine that a slight dip in form during this series would put him under great pressure – the last thing England would want heading into the hothouse atmosphere of an Ashes series.
Having said all that, England should win this series comfortably and I still cannot envisage a way the hosts will lose a single Test match all summer, including the Ashes.
Andy Lloyd is a former England Test cricketer who has also been captain and chairman of Warwickshire.