Winter cricket preview including England v New Zealand and Australia v Pakistan

England's new era begins in New Zealand
England's new era begins in New Zealand

Richard Mann looks ahead to the Test leg of England's tour of New Zealand and considers whether Pakistan could put it up to Australia this winter.

And so it begins.

The Trevor Bayliss era is now confined to the history books and new England head coach Chris Silverwood will face his first significant assignment when his side take on New Zealand in a two-match Test series beginning a week on Wednesday.

Failure to regain the Ashes last summer in an otherwise picture-perfect few months for English cricket has seen attention turned back on the longer form of the game with the Ashes tour of Australia in 2020/2021 already the main target.

Much of Silverwood's focus will be on his failing batting line-up but it appears that the seeds for this new era have already been sown, England's series-levelling victory against Australia at The Oval in September offering a blueprint for the way forward.

England's fascination with taking the attack to the opposition bowlers was finally done away with as the likes of the Rory Burns and Joe Denly, who ended the series as two of England's unsung heroes, opted for fight over flair, putting a high price on their wickets and wearing down a previously tireless Australian attack.

Rory Burns takes evasive action
Rory Burns takes evasive action

It is a hardly new phenomenon but in this modern era of T20 cricket and the all riches that can come with that form of the game, the art of batting for long periods appeared to have been lost, particularly in an England side who have ruled the world with an ultra-aggressive brand of cricket in the shorter formats.

However, as the likes of Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson have shown, Test cricket remains the ultimate challenge and for batsmen to be successful, the hard yards must be put in against the new ball and fresh bowling attacks.

The penny finally appears to be dropping with Joe Root and a top three in New Zealand of Burns, Dominic Sibley and Denly could prove the perfect foil for the captain, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler to play their natural games and reap the rewards of their colleagues' hard work.

It might not always be pretty but if England's top order can do the dirty work and provide the solid starts so badly missing in recent years, the foundations for a strong Test outfit remain with the bowling always potent in conditions that assist the seamers.

Jofra Archer's emergence last summer to provide much-needed firepower to support Stuart Broad and James Anderson - the Lancashire seamer is apparently on track to resume full fitness in time for the subsequent tour of South Africa - ensures taking wickets shouldn't be an issue in the next few months and England can rightfully be optimistic about a brighter future.

Key spots up for grabs

There are still some decisions to made, though, thus ensuring that England's two tour matches in New Zealand will provide a vital and informative workout for Root and his troops.

The key place up for grabs is the role of third seamer, carried out by Chris Woakes for much of last summer but not with the success he would have hoped for, and his 10 wickets in the Ashes at an average of 33.10 leaves him vulnerable.

Furthermore, Woakes' record away from home in Test cricket - 74 wickets at 61.77 - is very modest and might be enough to persuade selectors that Sam Curran, for all he might lack the pace and height to prosper in all conditions, is a better fit.

Curran had to wait until The Oval to get his chance in the Ashes but once again, he didn't disappoint and the feeling remains that any physical deficiencies he may have are more than counterbalanced by an impressive character and a handy knack of making things happen.

His pugnacious batting might give him the edge, too, particularly as Woakes is sure to be targeted with the short ball going forward, as was the case against Australia.

Sam Curran
Sam Curran

An untimely ankle injury for Denly is unlikely to rule out him out of the Test series but he will miss the opening tour match, meaning Sibley, Zac Crawley and Ollie Pope are all likely to be afforded the opportunity to press their claims.

Pope ought to be a shoe in for the series opener at Mount Maunganui but for Sibley and Crawley, opportunity knocks and should either, or both, impress in the warm-up games they could easily play their way into contention for the first Test.

Sibley has earned his chance with a glut of runs in county cricket last season while Crawley is a promising young player who has impressed plenty of onlookers with an organised game and he is clearly being earmarked with the future in mind.

Nevertheless, Denly's injury should ensure he gets a chance to impress prior to the first Test and were he to do so, he could easily play himself into a side where only Root, Stokes and Burns can be guaranteed a starting berth in the top six.

Pakistan promise fight Down Under

Pakistan's tour of Australia is already well under way and following the hosts' impressive showing in England last summer, they ought to prove too strong for the visitors now back on home soil.

The recent T20I series certainly went to script, Australia proving dominant throughout, but Pakistan's Test team has a different look to it and within their batting ranks, they certainly house the talent to make Australia's impressive bowlers work over the next few weeks.

Winter cricket betting preview
Click on the image to read Richard Mann's winter cricket betting preview

As I alluded to in my Winters Warmers piece recently, I have high hopes that the likes of Shan Masood, Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam can enjoy productive tours with the former someone I believe can stand up to the might of Australia's potent pace attack.

He only managed 22 in the ongoing tour match against Australian A at Perth but Shafiq and Azam both ended day one with sparkling unbeaten centuries to their names despite the hosts fielding a bowling attack containing the likes of Michael Neser, Jye Richardson and Sean Abbot.

If Shafiq and Azam can carry that form into the Test series, and their own young bowling attack can find a way to take wickets on foreign shores, Pakistan could well serve it up to the Australians this winter.

It was only a year ago that an excellent India side claimed victory in the previously unbreachable Australia and now Pakistan will rightfully hope they can pull off something similar.

A fascinating winter certainly awaits.

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