New Zealand the main attraction as they begin hectic English summer with one eye on the big prize

Two-match series against Joe Root's team perfect warm-up for World Test Championship final against India

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New Zealand's cricketers have long been used to playing the hors d'oeuvre fixtures of the English Test summer.

A couple of matches in May, perhaps edging into the start of June, represent the low-key tune-up for the host nation ahead of a showpiece series against someone else at the height of summer.

When they start the 2021 UK Test season, though, it will be they, not their hosts, who will have their eyes on a greater prize to follow.

Championship contenders

This is the first time New Zealand have played Tests in England at all in six years. On their past two trips, they were regarded merely the loosener ahead of the Ashes.

True, they are filling the same space in the calendar this time around. But now it is England, not the Black Caps, who are the warm-up act for the main event.

For New Zealand, these two Tests, at Lord’s and Edgbaston, represent a glorified centre-wicket practice, readying themselves for the serious business to follow. It is the tourists who will be competing for the title of Test world champions later this month.

Balancing the load

Having 15 days of Test cricket scheduled within the space of 20 days this month is a tough workload. Doubly so, given that the last of the three fixtures is technically for the biggest prize of all.

New Zealand have never been world champions in cricket – not that they could possibly have come any closer to doing so than they did in the 50-over World Cup at Lord's two years ago.

If they are to become the first winners of the Test World Championship, they will have to overcome India in the middle of June.

Having a tune-up against England first will be handy. But getting just the right amount of cricket into their bowlers in particular before the final starts will be a delicate balancing act.

New Zealand's Neil Wagner bowls during the nets session at Lord's, London. Picture date: Monday May 31, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story CRICKET New Zealand. Photo credit should read: Steven Paston/PA Wire.

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Fab four

Trent Boult and Tim Southee are New Zealand’s most prolific new-ball partnership in history. Kyle Jamieson has been a revelation since his arrival on the international scene at the start of last year.

And the other guy in the New Zealand pace attack? Neil Wagner, who is third in the world rankings for bowlers, behind just Pat Cummins and Ravichandran Ashwin.

Not all will feature all the time against England. Boult, for example, stayed back in New Zealand to spend time with his family, will likely miss both Tests against England.

How Jamieson fares will be intriguing. Part of prep for the WTC final was to opt out of bowling against Virat Kohli at Royal Challengers Bangalore nets during the IPL, so the India captain could not get any early sighters of the 6ft 8in fast bowler.

England absentees

This being Ashes year, England will also have future challenges in mind during this series.

Whether their side to face New Zealand at Lord’s will closely resemble that which lines up for the first Test in Brisbane in December seems unlikely.

England are resting their IPL contingent for this series – meaning Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Jonny Bairstow, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali are all unavailable for selection.

Add to that the injury absences of Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, and Ben Foakes, and it is fair to suggest England could be underpowered on their return to Test cricket this week.

England's James Bracey (L) and England's Joe Root attend a training session at Lord's Cricket Ground in London on June 1, 2021 ahead of the first Test match between England and New Zealand on June 2. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. NO ASSOCIATION WITH DIRECT COMPETITOR OF SPONSOR, PARTNER, OR SUPPLIER OF THE ECB

Braced for debuts

The big-name absentees mean opportunities knocking for others, though. James Bracey will benefit from the unavailability of Buttler, Foakes and Bairstow by taking up the gloves for England for the first time.

The left-hander would likely have debuted anyway, given his long run of excellence in English first-class cricket, but he will be behind the stumps on account of Foakes slipping in the Surrey dressing room and injuring his hamstring.

The home side could also hand another debut to Ollie Robinson, a seam bowler with a first-class career average of 21 with the ball.