England's No 1 ambitions
I've said before that New Zealand are tough to beat in their own backyard, but England cannot go in with the mindset that escaping with a drawn series would be a result. The expectations are always so high for England and if they're honest with themselves, they need to start winning away tours as well as home series if they're going to be taken seriously. That's what you need to do to get to No 1 in the world which I know this team want to do.
New Zealand nevertheless are a tough cookie to crack. The wickets tend to be fairly flat but every now and again the ball swings and it can swing prolifically. We all remember Eden Park in 2018 when Trent Boult was insatiable and bowled England out for a golf score rather than a cricket one. That's what can happen.
Get captain Root smiling again
England have the talent in this team to win the series but what I really want to see is Joe Root return to form.
When he is scoring the runs that his talent demands, England are virtually unstoppable because I honestly think he is the best player in the world, or at least up there with Steve Smith. If Joe gets that verve and vigour back with his batting, I think that will inspire the team and they will score the sort of runs that are un-matchable and win the series.
I'm putting a lot of pressure on Joe there but if you look at the Australians during the summer, their batting was pretty woeful as a group but Steve Smith held it together. He carried the whole nation on his shoulders. I think Joe should aspire to do that because we all know he is as good as Steve Smith and I want him to go out there and show everyone that he is.
I want to see that big smile back on his face rather than the laboured angry look that has been dogging him since he took over as skipper. I want to see him enjoy his batting again and play with that cheeky, annoying-little-brother smile that he used to have when he first came into the team.
Sibley's challenge is a mental one
These slots at the top of the order have been up for grabs and no-one has managed to snaffle them properly - but it's very difficult to know how good someone is going to be in Test cricket until they've played it. Dom Sibley got a lot of runs behind him so hopefully he will be able to replicate that.
It's great that he'll have a familiar face at the other end too in old Surrey opening partner Rory Burns (above). It's not because he's got a mate out there or anything - it's more nuanced than that. If you've grown up with and scored runs at the same level as the guy down the other end, and now he's doing well in Test cricket, that gives you some mental affirmation. It tells you 'yes, I can do it because he can do it'.
Sometimes, that's quite important. Test cricket is, in essence, the same game; the ball is the same shape and the pitch is the same length. What is different is in your mind, where it's a very difficult game. As soon as you start winning those battles, things start getting easy.
Give me a Dukes over a Kookaburra any day!
I heard Jofra Archer complaining about the lack of seam on the red Kookaburra ball and I do sympathise - but you've just got to get used to it. Every seamer in the world would give their left arm to bowl with a Dukes ball but there are very few countries in the world that use a traditional proper cricket ball. It's a shame because I always think the Dukes gives you a fair contest - if you look after the ball, it will swing and you get a bit of seam movement too.
The Kookaburra does not create a fair contest because there is very little lateral movement. The reason the Australians have a battery of pace bowlers is that on hard wickets that don't seam at all and with a ball that doesn't swing, there is no other way to skin the cat. The seam basically disappears inside the ball so there's never any seam movement or jeopardy for the batsmen.
I think that's why Australian cricket is quite one-dimensional to watch because those overs between 15 and 80 when the ball isn't swinging is like watching a net practice. Batsmen can just cash in. In England, the ball can nibble around a bit if you put it in the right place. In Australia, it can't - unless it hits a pebble! And there aren't many of those...