New Zealand and England will have their first assignment of World Test Championship when they face each other in the 2-match Test series that begins at Mount Maunganui on Thursday. These two teams played out an epic World Cup final, the drama of which still lives in the minds of both nations.
But this is an altogether different format and the factors at play and some of the players would be different from those who fought in the World Cup. This is the second time in as many years that the English team is touring New Zealand and playing a Test series against the Kiwis there.
Last year, England suffered an embarrassing 1-0 defeat which involved them getting bowled out for 58 in the first innings of the first Test at Auckland. Will we see a similar result? Or will England turn the tables this year?
This series is indeed very important for both teams. Here, we highlight the 5 reasons these two Tests are of great consequence.
England Test team's status
Over the last four years, the focus of England's cricket was on improving their ODI team and getting it ready to win the 2019 World Cup. Now that England have accomplished their goal, they need to turn their attention back to Test cricket. While the English ODI team thrived, the Test team, especially its batting, went from bad to worse.
The Test batsmen of England seemed incapable of concentrating hard and batting for long hours. All this was tolerated for the larger aim of winning the World Cup. But now, the focus turns back to the longest format. Having failed to win the Ashes at home, England's new coach Chris Silverwood has to revive the Test side. Hence, it is the start of a new era and one that needs to be closely watched.
The inability to beat Australia at home brought Joe Root close to losing his captaincy. It's not just that he hasn't been very successful as captain. The problem also lies with the fact that he hasn't been the kind of big run-getter that the likes of Steve Smith and Virat Kohli have become. Root is now under the spotlight.
The English Test captain needs to improve both his and his team's performance. A loss in this series could well end the Yorkshire lad's tenure as skipper.
Will Archer fire again?
The English home season saw the emergence of Jofra Archer as one of the most impressive and destructive bowlers in all forms of the game. Having proven himself in home conditions, Archer now has to show that he can get wickets elsewhere as well.
Similarly, the New Zealand batsmen will be tested as well. Will they be able to cope with the pace and bounce that Archer generates? Watching the West Indies-born pacer take on the likes of Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson will be fascinating.
Focus on Denly
England have been looking to fill several key positions in their Test batting line-up for a long time. These include opener's slot, number 3 batsman and one player in the middle-order. While the search for one good opener seems to have ended with the arrival of Rory Burns who performed well in the Ashes series, the other spot remains vacant.
Joe Denly, brought into the team during the tour of West Indies, seems to be a player of genuine quality and got some good scores against Australia. A good series here would cement his place in the side. There is also a great opportunity for Ollie Pope. He is a naturally gifted player who could well emerge as a future superstar. All these batsmen would be keenly followed.
Currran and Woakes
Chris Woakes has been a magnificent bowler in England. But his record away from home has been rather ordinary. However, the conditions in New Zealand can often be very similar to Britain. With Anderson not being in the team, Woakes has a great opportunity to establish himself as a proper replacement, and a successor to him.
But there is another man who is looking to fill the role of a good swing bowler. Sam Curran has impressed everyone as a gutsy, tenacious cricketer. While he comes across as an innocuous bowler, Curran has the amazing ability to punch above his weight. This series is crucial for him. In order to keep his place in the squad intact, he will have to come up with decent returns.