Draw comfort in Kiwi Tests
Our Dave Tickner expects another stalemate when England and New Zealand return to the Test arena.
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Less than two months after New Zealand and England played out a 0-0 Test series draw in the land of the long white cloud, the teams clash again.
This time, alas, played over only two Tests at Lord's and Headingley in a series doomed to be billed as Ashes build-up, even if no-one involved will accept its status as hors d'oeuvres.
England have been criticised for underestimating New Zealand in that scoreless series but in truth most observers must have been surprised at the Kiwis' form. Across the series they outperformed England in all three disciplines, with the top-order batting solid and reliable and the seam-bowling unit impressive.
They were also superbly led by the aggressive and fast-thinking Brendon McCullum, a man whose personality informs his captaincy every bit as much as it does his batting.
The tourists are bolstered too by the return to fitness of experienced pair Doug Bracewell and Martin Guptill to further strengthen the two key early-English-summer areas of top-order batting and new-ball bowling.
England, though, will surely improve. The dynamic has changed; with no disrespect to New Zealand, the tour of India was clearly England's winter priority and having won so well there it was clearly a struggle to regroup and push again in New Zealand.
Now they are building through the summer towards the Ashes and will be desperate to make a positive start to the season.
But I'm not convinced they will. A feature of the series in New Zealand was the flatness of the pitches, and that's unlikely to change here.
Lord's is always good for batting and in the County Championship Middlesex have already made a 500-plus total when following-on to show that pitches at HQ are once again staying true for the full duration of matches.
Leeds can be helpful to bowlers when the conditions are right, but Yorkshire racked up 505/9 last week.
Another problem for England is the continued absence of Kevin Pietersen, the one batsman in their ranks with a consistent and proven track record of breaking open tight games with an innings of genius.
England's proud home record makes them worthy favourites here but they are too short in both the first Test and series outright prices.
The evidence of the winter coupled with the prospect of two flat pitches and some traditional English summer weather over the next fortnight a 0-0 draw looks way overpriced at 8/1 and worth a solid investment. That's the same price as a 1-1 draw, which looks a far less likely scenario given New Zealand's struggle to force wins against top-quality opposition.
Elsewhere, Joe Root's early-season form means the 15/2 chalked up for him to top England's run charts makes real appeal.
He's scored three centuries - the lowest of them 179 against New Zealand for the Lions - already this summer and has racked up a staggering 646 runs in just four first-class innings.
So stunning is that form that a couple of good Tests could see him reach 1000 first-class runs before the end of May.
No-one else in England's top six has been in anything like that form in the early weeks of the season and, despite enduring a fairly tough time in the reverse series, Root now looks fully ready to really kick on in Test cricket.
The fact the second Test is on his home ground, where he made 236 against Derbyshire a fortnight ago, should also help.