WELLINGTON, (Reuters) – A galvanised New Zealand cricket team headed to Britain yesterday determined to finish off a job they came so close to completing in a thrilling climax to their drawn test series against Alastair Cook’s England at home last month.
Brendon McCullum’s underdogs had the entire Eden Park crowd on the edge of their seats as they got to within one wicket of achieving a remarkable 1-0 series victory over the world’s second ranked side late on the final day.
Poor weather undoubtedly played a part in the series, though as McCullum said after England’s final pair survived 19 nerve-jangling deliveries in Auckland, the hosts could have won it 2-1 had rain not intervened in Dunedin and Wellington.
Coach Mike Hesson echoed those sentiments yesterday as his side gathered in Auckland for their flight to England, with their first game of the tour, a three-day match against Derbyshire beginning on Saturday.
“The term ‘unfinished business’ reflects how we felt after that final day of the third test at Eden Park last month,” Hesson wrote in his tour diary on the New Zealand Cricket website (www.blackcaps.co.nz).
“Being so close to victory over the second-best test nation in the world was hard to swallow and I’ve never seen the guys so disappointed in the shed afterwards.
“I couldn’t have been prouder of their efforts but that was certainly little consolation at the time.”
The two-test tour also includes three one-dayers before the International Cricket Council’s one-day Champions Trophy tournament. The trip ends with two Twenty20 internationals.
While the development of the one-day side is of importance for New Zealand Cricket given the format’s pre-eminence in focus ahead of the 2015 World Cup the country is co-hosting with Australia, the test results will be critically monitored.
The team lifted their standard of play in the longest form of the game at home against England and their fighting spirit diminished memories of the side that limped home from South Africa having been thrashed 2-0 by the Proteas, which included being bowled out for 45 in the first innings of the first test.
The top three of Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford and Kane Williamson blossomed as they gave the rest of the order a solid foundation to build on, while McCullum’s decision to drop down to six solidified the lower middle order.
Trent Boult appeared to have realised his potential as a test-class paceman while Neil Wagner was a tireless and tough competitor.
The decision to stick with the same starting side throughout the England series has also meant that regular test players like batsman Martin Guptill and pace bowler Doug Bracewell, who were injured, may find it difficult to force their way back into the team now they have recovered.
Hesson was also well aware that conditions in England would be vastly different to those the teams encountered at home.
There was some criticism of the benign-nature of the pitches in New Zealand, though as McCullum pointed out, every game could have ended in a result, and the wickets at Lord’s for the first test from May 16 and at Headingley in Leeds are likely to be more lively.
The fickle English weather is also expected to play a part and Hesson gave all of his pace bowlers Duke balls, which will be used in England instead of the Kookaburra ones used in New Zealand, to practice with in the interceding five weeks.
Another important factor that now appears to be behind them was the controversy over the dumping of captain Ross Taylor as claim and counter-claim from players, former players and interested parties that punctuated the entire domestic summer.
The issue, however, may have been put to bed last week after legal action from McCullum and Hesson against former New Zealand player John Parker was dropped after the latter apologised for comments he made about the sacking.