Tim Southee
New Zealand Test captain Tim Southee. Image Credit: AP

A diminished New Zealand will battle to bring high-flying England back to earth in a two-Test series starting in Mount Maunganui on Thursday, having been the first casualties of Brendon McCullum’s ‘Bazball’ last year.

The Black Caps were steamrolled 3-0 as England swept to nine wins in 10 Tests with an attacking mindset under new captain Ben Stokes and head coach McCullum, the former New Zealand skipper.

The hosts have since started their own rebuild under Kane Williamson’s successor Tim Southee and split their away series with Pakistan last month.

Stiff challenge

However, they face a stiff challenge to halt the English juggernaut without their best pace lineup.

Neither Kyle Jamieson nor Matt Henry will be steaming in during the pink ball series-opener at Bay Oval, the former quick ruled out of the series with a back problem and the latter on leave for the birth of his first child.

Former pace spearhead Trent Boult has been overlooked as a replacement because he opted out of his national contract last year.

With seam bowling all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme also lost to the lucrative global T20 circuit, selectors are left with only rookie quicks to lend support to fast bowling captain Southee and Neil Wagner.

Central Districts seamer Blair Tickner will make his Test debut, Southee confirmed on Wednesday, but selectors have yet to decide on the final 11.

If they opt for a four-prong pace attack, one of either Jacob Duffy or Scott Kuggeleijn will also debut.

Since winning the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) in 2021, New Zealand’s decline has been rapid and jarring.

They have won only two out of 11 Tests since beating India in the WTC final at Lord’s.

They have not lost a Test series at home to England since 2008 but Stokes’s men have little respect for the record books.

Their last history-making effort came in Pakistan where they became the first team to complete a 3-0 whitewash of the South Asians.

If New Zealand have a sliver of hope it may lie in England’s trouble with day-night Tests.

England have lost their last five under the lights and neither James Anderson nor Ollie Robinson have much love for the pink Kookaburra ball.

Both teams’ preparations have been disrupted by Cyclone Gabrielle which washed out training for two days this week, while wreaking havoc elsewhere in the North Island.

England appear far more settled, though, and refreshed after a golf break down south and a tour of some of McCullum’s old haunts further north.

England have not looked back since McCullum and Stokes took charge but the series will be a reminder of where it all began for the Anderson-Stuart Broad pace axis.

15 years ago

Nearly 15 years ago, both were picked together for the first time in Wellington in the second Test of the 2008 series and took 10 wickets between them to help England win.

They kept their spots for the third and final clash in Napier, which England won to seal the series 2-1.

More than 1,200 dismissals later, 40-year-old Anderson and 36-year-old Broad are ready to go again.

Broad, who missed the Pakistan tour, was confirmed in England’s 11 on Thursday, joining Anderson and Ollie Robinson in a three-man pace attack, with Jack Leach to provide spin.

After Mount Maunganui, the series moves south to Wellington for the second and final Test from Feb. 24.