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England eyes momentum, third spot in ICC rankings

Injury concerns for New Zealand ahead of Headingley Test as it aims to level Test series

England eyes momentum, third spot in ICC rankings - Cricket News
If England wins or draws the Test they will surge to the third position ahead of India in the ICC Test rankings.

New Zealand had come to England to make amends for its previous tour of the country, when it had been blanked 2-0. Now, it will be chasing a win to square the series and prevent another sweep when the second and final Test starts at Headingley on Friday (May 29). 

England, meanwhile, will want to take winning momentum into the Ashes that will begin on July 8. A come-from-behind win in the first Test at Lord's, by 124 runs, allowed England to start its season on a positive note. 

Alastair Cook, the captain, has set aside criticism to do particularly well in the last five Tests, having accumulated 79, 24, 135, 109 and 178 runs. Apart from Cook’s performances, the team will also be buoyed by the form of Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Mark Wood. 

After being dropped in the last Ashes Test in Australia in 2014, Root has hardly put a foot wrong. The Yorkshire batsman has scored 1317 runs in the last 11 Tests at an average of 94.07, helping him break into the top 5 of Test batsmen rankings for the first time. 

Stokes, meanwhile, ensured England's comeback after New Zealand had the upper hand going into the fourth day at Lord's, hammering 101 off 92 balls to start the fightback. Stokes had toiled in the first innings with the ball without much luck, ending with figures of 0 for 105. However, two balls from him in New Zealand's second innings turned the match in England’s favour: After the visiting side had been reduced to 12 for 3, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor were settling in for a promising stand, when Stokes dismissed Williamson and then got Brendon McCullum the very next ball. England will hope that his wasn’t a one-off performance and the allrounder builds on the gains from the first Test. 

For one man, though, the Lord’s Test wasn’t the best by his standards. James Anderson struggled to make use of the conditions and picked up only two wickets. Having said that, an important milestone awaits Anderson. Already the highest wicket-taker for England in Tests, he’s on 399 wickets, just one away from joining the 400-plus Test wickets club. 

Wood, meanwhile, gave England another pace bowling option with his impressive debut. It was his spell of 3 for 77 in the first innings that kept New Zealand to 535 after it looked set to top the 600-run mark for most of their innings. He is likely to retain his place in the second Test, with England choosing not to make too many changes to its squad; the only addition is Liam Plunkett. 

New Zealand, though, has personnel concerns, with BJ Watling suffering a nasty knee injury while keeping and Corey Anderson suffering from a back problem. “BJ is not 100%, clearly his knee is still an issue," said Mike Hesson, the New Zealand coach, ahead of the match. “He struggles to push off and get a lot of power. He's a 50-50 at this stage and we'll just have to keep monitoring him.”  

Both batsmen are expected to undergo a fitness test on the morning of the game. If Watling is ruled out, Luke Ronchi is likely to make his Test debut. If Anderson is ruled out, New Zealand has pace options in Doug Bracewell and Neil Wagner travelling with the team, but will miss his batting capabilities. 

That may force the team management to play an extra specialist batsman, with Hamish Rutherford coming in and Tom Latham the one behind the wickets. Latham did an impressive job with the gloves after Watling walked off the field. 

The final Test gives England a chance to improve its ranking as well. If it wins or draws the Test, the team, currently fifth in the table, will surge to third ahead of India, and New Zealand will slip to seventh. But even if New Zealand wins, the side will drop a spot from third and England will stay at No. 5.

After the Test series, the two teams will play five One-Day Internationals and a Twenty20 International.

Teams (from):

England: Adam Lyth, Alastair Cook (capt), Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wkt), Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, James Anderson, Chris Jordan.

New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling (wkt), Brendon McCullum (capt), Corey Anderson, Mark Craig, Tim Southee, Matt Henry, Trent Boult, Luke Ronchi, Hamish Rutherford, Neil Wagner, Doug Bracewell. 

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