Enthralling series set for decider


The pre-Ashes camp squad has been announced, the Australians are briefly catching the sights in London before turning to more pressing matters and it would normally be natural for thoughts to wander from the most ephemeral of cricketing contests: the bilateral one-day series. But not in this case because English cricket has never felt blither for years as they have slugged out the Royal London series against New Zealand with great skill and commendable spirit.

There has been griping from afar that England, by producing a succession of batsmen-loaded pitches, have entered the land of flat-track bullies. That there has been an imbalance between bat and ball is apparent, but that is largely for the ICC to address. The cricket has caught the public attention and that has been a relief in a country where the game needs to reassert its place at the centre of the sporting summer. As a precursor to the Ashes, it could not have gone better. There is no need to resent the fun England is having as the team have posted four scores in excess of 300, national records broken with regularity.

And so we come to the final encounter at Chester-le-Street, the most northerly of England’s international outposts, a ground where Durham, the Championship leaders, have barely lodged a decent score all season, but where seam bowlers regularly feel empowered. Could there be a twist at last? Tim Southee, for New Zealand, and Mark Wood, playing for England on his home ground for the first time, may feel particularly perky when they wake on match-day morning. Many will crave more of the same – certainly many in the crowd will – but if there was a twist in the tail, and the bowlers took command, it would reassert England’s place as a cricketing land of infinite variety.

Form guide


New Zealand: LWWLL

Players to watch

Ben Stokes appears on his home ground in high spirits at England’s carefree approach, a player who revels in the perpetual cut and thrust which has been at the heart of the series. He would love nothing more than to succeed before supporters who are fiercely proud of the successful production line of players from the north-east of England.

Tim Southee will be eager to restate his bowling credentials at the end of a series in which his outswinger has barely threatened – food for thought for Southee and New Zealand’s new bowling coach, Dimitri Mascarenhas, no doubt. It was Southee who swung England to distraction during the World Cup, producing New Zealand’s best ODI figures of 7 for 33. In nine subsequent ODIs, he has taken eight wickets at 67.57, although in the context of this series his economy rate of 6.65 could be worse.

Team news

England have a doubt about Jos Buttler, who split the webbing of his hand in a morning fielding drill and Jonny Bairstow has been called up as cover. Buttler put a protective bandage on the wound which was to be assessed on Saturday morning. The loss of Buttler would potentially mean a wicketkeeping opportunity for Bairstow, although Sam Billings who has fulfilled the role regularly for Kent, would be another option.

England (probable) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Sam Billings, 8 Adil Rashid, 9 David Willey, 10 Mark Wood, 11 Steven Finn.

New Zealand are also fairly settled, although they might recall Nathan McCullum’s offspin, with even Chester-le-Street’s propensity to help the seamers not enough to make Mitchell McClenaghan’s selection inevitable. McClenaghan may vie for the final spot with Ben Wheeler.

New Zealand (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum (capt), 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Grant Elliott, 6 Luke Ronchi (wk), 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Nathan McCullum, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Ben Wheeler/Mitchell McClenaghan, 11 Matt Henry.

Pitch and conditions

A ropey forecast will encourage the seam bowlers on both sides. The forecast is for a cloudy morning with hill fog and occasional rain, slowly becoming dry as the afternoon progresses. But Chester-le-Street is not just about seam: Sachithra Senanayake took 4 for 13 from 7.1 overs last year as England caved in for 99 and lost by 157 runs against Sri Lanka.

Stats and trivia

Mitchell McClenaghan, out of sorts for New Zealand in this series, took 11 wickets at 15.81 in the corresponding series in England two years ago.

England have scored 1425 runs in four matches, already ahead of their previous highest aggregate for a five-match series (1399) with one game remaining.

England have hit 47 sixes – in six World Cup matches they managed 18.

The owners of Lumley Castle, which sits above the ground, recently lodged their opposition to Chester-le-Steet’s new floodlights, without success.


“New Zealand finished second in the World Cup and they were the best side until the final. We have played some great cricket against the second best team in the world. We know we have made people watch and enjoy England cricket again.”

England allrounder Ben Stokes is happy that people are happy

“We have struggled to deliver a succession of dot balls, or overs that haven’t gone for boundaries. The key thing is the ball hasn’t swung.”

Mike Hesson, New Zealand coach, on the reasons for the attack conceding runs