Ed Hawkins previews the first of three Tests and does not expect the hosts to give Alastair Cook's side much to fret about, starting in Dunedin on Tuesday night...
The Kiwis have suffered a blow in the build-up with an injury to Doug Bracewell, who has suffered a cut foot. Pacer Bracewell has 46 wickets at 31 so is an important cog for the hosts. If he is ruled out Ian Butler could play his first Test for eight years. He has taken 39 wickets at 25 in this season's domestic competition. New Zealand will rely on Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor and the veteran Peter Fulton for runs. All-rounder Tim Southee is included in the squad while there are high hopes for 23-year-old fast bowler Trent Boult.
Confidence in the tourists has been shaken somewhat after they succumbed to defeat by a New Zealand XI in their one and only warm-up. Having scored 426 in their first-innings all looked swell but the wheels came off when they set their opponents 334 to win. England were defeated comfortably by three wickets. It is true that James Anderson and Steven Finn did not play but it is a concern that back-ups Chris Woakes and Graeme Onions could not do the job. Anderson and Finn will return. Joe Root will bat at number six.
Of their last eight home series against top-seven ranked international sides (e.g. not Bangladesh or Zimbabwe), New Zealand have failed to win. That sequence stretches back to December 2006. Of their last 18 series, home and away, with the same criteria they have not won once. Not surprisingly, England as skinny as 1.42/5 for victory in the three-match series with New Zealand 10.5n/a and the draw 7.06/1. We have to look at the series score market for value, therefore, and selecting a 2-0 and 3-0 England charge should pay dividends at 3.211/5 and 3.412/5 respectively.
Not surprisingly, New Zealand's Test-win record is not so hot against the top teams, either. They have three wins since March 2008, the first of those coming against England in Wellington. And the 1.674/6 about England winning the opener is just not short enough in our view. New Zealand are 7.87/1 and the draw is 3.55n/a. The stalemate is probably shorter than it should be but that could be due to weather worries. There is rain around on day one but, at the moment, the forecast is fine for the last four days.
Encouragingly for the hosts, New Zealand are yet to be beaten in four Tests at the University Oval. They have beaten Bangladesh and Pakistan and drawn with West Indies and South Africa. That is probably because the pitch favours seam and swing. Not so encouragingly for the Kiwis, England are one of the finest exponents of both arts.
There have been only four Tests played at this venue, the last in March 2012. The first-innings scores (and their makers) read: 137 (Bangladesh), 365 (New Zealand), 429 (New Zealand) and 238 (South Africa). The last, and most recent, number maybe the most relevant. England's batsmen are not wholly reliable when the ball bends so it would be a mistake to expect them to be posting big totals. With their dominance in the market, there could be a lay for 375 or more.
McCullum and Taylor are level-pegging at 4.57/2 in this market and it is easy to see why. Only 31 runs separate them over the last three years and they are nicely protected in the middle order from the swinging ball.
Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott are the numbers one, two and three for runs in the last 12 months and a solid case could be made for each of them. KP probably gets the nod because Cook has a poor average against the Kiwis, managing a mark of only 30 to Pietersen's 45. Pietersen is 4.216/5 here but you may prefer to play the top England series bat where he is 5.14/1.