With Ben Stokes likely to return, the visitors look strong, but the hosts are on an excellent run in the format and will hope to start the series well in familiar conditions.
New Zealand v England
Seddon Park, Hamilton
Sunday 25 February; 14:00 local, 01:00 GMT
The word in the British press is that Ben Stokes will finally return to action in the opening one-day international of the five-match series, to be played at Hamilton’s Seddon Park on Sunday, 25 February.
If that happens, the all-rounder will likely corner a lot of the attention and also make England appear stronger on paper than they might have otherwise. Not that England are not excellent in the 50-over game anyway – the last time they played the format, in January, they won a five-match series in Australia 4-1.
Almost all the games were close, but England found a way to remain in front more often than not. Chris Woakes did a good job as the premier pace-bowling all-rounder in Stokes’s absence, Adil Rashid picked up wickets consistently, Joe Root looked good with the bat, and all of Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales had at least one good outing.
If Stokes is indeed added to the mix, someone has to make way and that might not be an easy call for Eoin Morgan, the captain, and Trevor Bayliss, the coach, to make. One way or the other, though, it will be a strong XI that takes the field. England have worked hard to identify the right personnel to make their 50-over side one of the strongest in the world, and with the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 just over a year away, they will be looking to build some strong momentum with the set of personnel they feel will do the business best in familiar conditions come World Cup time.
If the series against Australia was the starting point of the process to get ready for the marquee event, it’s looking good for England. But the test against New Zealand might be an even tougher one.
Kane Williamson’s men are coming off an eight-match winning run in the format, all the wins coming at home – 3-0 against Windies in December 2017 and 5-0 against Pakistan in January 2018 – in the last couple of months. That’s some form.
In terms of personnel, there is no Lockie Ferguson around, with the 26-year-old paceman released to play domestic cricket, while injury concerns over Mitchell Santner and Todd Astle, the spinners, have led to a call-up for Ish Sodhi at the expense of George Worker.
Sodhi hasn’t always been a preferred choice in ODIs, but had a strong run in the Trans-Tasman Twenty20 International Tri-Series, finishing with five wickets in as many matches. He was the most economical bowler for New Zealand in the final, picking up 1/21 even as Australia won by 19 runs in a rain-affected game, as well as in the high-scoring league game against the same side, where he had 1/35.
Neither team really got going in the T20I tri-series, losing all their matches to Australia, a depleted Australia at that, and splitting the two matches they played against each other. But they are stronger in the 50-over format: if New Zealand start the series on an 8-0 streak, England have won eight of their last nine bilateral ODI series.
Martin Guptill (New Zealand): New Zealand won only one match in the T20I tri-series, but that was not for want of trying on Guptill’s part. The classy opening batsman scored two good half-centuries in the games against England, and struck a fantastic 105 against Australia to signal his form. In ODIs, Guptill is one of the best in the business, and will want to start the series against England well.
Ben Stokes (England): Will he or won’t he? Get on the field that is. If he does, as indications are, it will mark a return to international cricket for the explosive all-rounder, one of the most exciting cricketers in the game, after 24 September last year. He has only played three List-A games and three T20s for Canterbury in the New Zealand domestic circuit since then but showed decent form, especially with the bat. He will be itching to get in there and make a mark.
In the only game of the T20I tri-series played at Seddon Park, England scored 194/7 and stopped New Zealand at 192/4, suggesting that despite all the use of the surface through the season, there are runs to be scored. But over 100 overs, the pitch might slow down a bit, and spin might play a role. The weather forecast is a good one – a few clouds but nothing too threatening, and a nice, comfortable temperature.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Todd Astle, Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson, Colin de Grandhomme, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham (wk), Colin Munro, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor.
England: Eoin Morgan (capt), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler (wk), Tom Curran, Alex Hales, Craig Overton, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.