Big picture: Back to the 20-over format
Roll up, roll up! We’ve had rollercoaster men’s and women’s Ashes, the Hundred has enjoyed its month in the spotlight… but there’s still room in the sardine can for a bilateral white-ball series or three! Astute followers of the game will be aware that New Zealand arrived in the country a few days ago, but the rest of you are forgiven if you missed it between 100-ball shenanigans and World Cup squad headlines.
The tour begins with four – yes, four – T20Is, starting at Chester-le-Street on Wednesday, before four – yes, four – ODIs that will set England on the runway towards their 50-over World Cup defence. As such, the T20Is provide more of an opportunity to test the hosts’ depth, ahead of another global event in the US and Caribbean next year – although plans to blood a trio of young pace bowlers have already taken a turn after injuries ruled out John Turner and Josh Tongue.
Gus Atkinson, one of the breakout stars of the season and a man capable of bowling 95mph/152kph, should, however, win an England debut over the next few days. Atkinson helped Oval Invincibles to the Hundred title at the weekend, having caught Jos Buttler’s eye during a head-to-head contest earlier in the campaign, and the Surrey man has shot up the pecking order to the extent that he is also in the provisional World Cup squad – despite having only played two List A games in his career.
There should also be chances for the likes of Rehan Ahmed, Luke Wood and Will Jacks, while Jonny Bairstow is set to play his first T20I in over a year, having missed England’s victorious T20 World Cup campaign in Australia. Bairstow may be the immediate beneficiary of Alex Hales’ recent retirement, having only opened sporadically over the course of his international T20 career.
Gus Atkinson is expected to make his England debut against New Zealand•Getty Images
Such is the sense of dislocation around the schedule, England haven’t actually played a limited-overs international since mid-March, when their world champion status was knocked by a 3-0 T20I defeat in Bangladesh. But Buttler, coming in off the back of a tournament-leading run haul in the Hundred, and Matthew Mott now have an intensive programme with which to fine-tune preparations for the subcontinent.
As it happens, the tournament opener on October 5 will pit England against, yes, New Zealand, in a rematch of the 2019 final (with Player of the Match at Lord’s, Ben Stokes, back out of retirement, although he won’t be involved in the T20Is). Tim Southee, New Zealand’s T20I captain, acknowledged that all roads currently lead to Ahmedabad, and there is plenty for the tourists to get straightened out over while in England.
They arrived on the back of a 2-1 win in the UAE with an experimental side – but saw a remarkable record of 39 games without defeat against non-Test nations ended in the second match of the series. The squad to face England will be significantly stronger, however, with several already in rhythm after plying their trade in the Hundred.
For New Zealand’s World Cup hopes, the most-important element of this tour might be how Kane Williamson goes in his rehabilitation from a serious knee injury. Williamson is not expected to be involved against England, while Trent Boult will only play the ODIs as he returns to the fold after opting out of a central contract last year – but after several months in which the global T20 franchise circuit has dominated conversations, a different narrative is starting to build.
Kyle Jamieson made his comeback to international cricket in the UAE last week•Emirates Cricket Board
England LLLWW (last five Tests, most recent first)
New Zealand WLWWW
In the spotlight: Harry Brook and Kyle Jamieson
Jos Buttler last week described Harry Brook as unfortunate to miss out on selection for the World Cup, sentiments which he repeated before the game at Chester-le-Street. Brook is a T20 World Cup winner who averages 62.15 with a strike rate of 91.76 in Tests – and therefore perfectly suited to the 50-over game – but Stokes’ return has nixed his hopes of being in India (at least for now). Having responded to his omission by scoring the fastest century in the short history of the Hundred, off 41 balls, he will doubtless be keen to nudge the selectors again.Kyle Jamieson suffered a back injury on New Zealand’s tour of England in 2022 that subsequently ruled him out of action for much of the next 14 months. His phenomenal start to life as a Test cricketer led to a US$2.5m IPL deal in 2021, although life has not always run smoothly as he attempted to juggle his workload across formats. Jamieson has only featured eight ODIs and 11 T20Is for New Zealand but played his first cricket since February in the UAE and could yet be a key weapon at the 50-over World Cup, with his imposing height and ability as a lower-order hitter.
Team news: England test bench, NZ welcome big guns
England’s intention for this series had been to blood their next tier of white-ball quicks, ahead of next year’s defence of their T20 World Cup title, but two of those uncapped prospects, John Turner and Josh Tongue, have already been withdrawn through injury, with Brydon Carse and the old-stager Chris Jordan slotting in in their stead. The third of that trio of new boys, Atkinson, is sure to play at some stage as England seek to fast-track his international experience ahead of his prospective World Cup call-up, although having featured in Oval Invincibles’ victory in the men’s Hundred final on Sunday night, his involvement may yet be deferred. On the batting side, Brook is the squad’s cause celebre, although Ben Duckett and Jacks have plenty of incentive to impress as well, with Buttler having admitted last week that nothing is yet set in stone for the World Cup.
England: 1 Jos Buttler (capt & wk), 2 Jonny Bairstow, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Harry Brook, 5 Liam Livingstone, 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Sam Curran, 8 Adil Rashid, 9 Chris Jordan/Brydon Carse, 10 Luke Wood, 11 Gus Atkinson
Matthew Mott and Jos Buttler were reunited after a long break in the white-ball schedule•Getty Images
New Zealand’s squad is assembling Avengers-style from myriad corners of the cricketing universe. A scratch squad contested a brace of warm-up games against Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, but now a host of Hundred combatants are returning to the fray – among them Southee, Daryl Mitchell and Adam Milne, who provided three touches of Kiwi class in an otherwise dead-rubber clash between Birmingham Phoenix and London Spirit last week. In a rather more high-profile outing, Devon Conway and Finn Allen formed a potent alliance for Southern Brave in Saturday’s Eliminator at The Oval, and will slot back in at the top of the NZ order, after Tim Seifert and Chad Bowes stood in against UAE. Jamieson made his comeback in that series after a long-standing back injury, and will continue his progress over the coming games. Jimmy Neesham, a hero of the Hundred final for Oval Invincibles, is heading home for the birth of his child.
New Zealand: 1 Devon Conway (wk), 2 Finn Allen, 3 Mark Chapman/Tim Seifert, 4 Glenn Phillips, 5 Daryl Mitchell, 6 Rachin Ravindra/Cole McConchie, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Kyle Jamieson, 9 Tim Southee (capt), 10 Lockie Ferguson/Adam Milne, 11 Ish Sodhi
Pitch and conditions
Chester-le-Street last hosted a T20 international in 2017, and is not known as a batter-friendly venue – in this year’s Vitality Blast, it was the third-lowest scoring of the major grounds, with runs coming at 8.27 an over. There is a chance of some rain to freshen conditions further on Wednesday, although the forecast for the evening is clear.
Stats and trivia
New Zealand have won eight and lost 14 of their previous 22 completed T20Is against England, including a tie in Auckland in November 2019 that Chris Jordan duly sealed in the Super Over, to claim a 3-2 series win in the two teams’ most recent bilateral outing.
Since then, England and New Zealand have played twice more, at consecutive T20 World Cups. At the former event in 2021, Daryl Mitchell propelled his side to the final where they fell short against Australia; then, 12 months later, England exacted revenge in the group stage, en route to their victory in the final.
“I don’t think he has a point to prove. We all know what a fantastic player he is. He’s unfortunate to miss out on selection at this stage. We’ve said it for a long time in English white-ball cricket we’ve got a lot of depth and talent, and young players coming through pushing [for selection] has been a hallmark of the team. It’s natural that good players miss out.”
England captain Jos Buttler on Brook’s standing
“Any cricket now in the lead-up to the World Cup is good cricket. For the guys that go on to that tournament, you’re playing against quality white-ball opposition. I know it’s a different format but I think any cricket leading into the World Cup is good cricket.”
New Zealand captain Tim Southee
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick