England vs New Zealand: The biggest issues for Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum to address in new era

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England vs New Zealand: The biggest issues for Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum to address in new era
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A new era begins for English cricket on Thursday as the First Test against New Zealand starts at Lord’s.

England are led by a new captain in Ben Stokes, while Kiwi great Brendon McCullum has taken on the coaching reins after a truly miserable run of form.

The hosts have just one win in their last 17 Tests, with no victory from their previous five series leaving them bottom of the World Test Championship rankings.

Here, Standard Sport’s cricket correspondent Will Macpherson looks at the biggest issues for Stokes and McCullum to address...

The top three

Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope are considered by England to be batters whose time has arrived to repay the investment made in them, McCullum-style players who just need unlocking by the new coach.

Both bring risk, while Alex Lees is the straight man. He deserves another shot after doing okay in the Caribbean, then starting the season well with Durham. If he is to stick about, it does not matter how the runs arrive, just that they do.

The spinner

Matt Parkinson is the populist choice. He has been unfortunate to run so many drinks, and has an excellent record, especially as he is a leg-spinner in England. Jack Leach is safer and deserves a go at home, where he has not played since 2019, but has an excellent record.

Will Matt Parkinson or Jack Leach become England’s primary Test spinner? (Getty Images)
Will Matt Parkinson or Jack Leach become England’s primary Test spinner? (Getty Images)

Leach is a favourite of Ben Stokes and a steady operator capable of providing control, but will want to show more than that. Has a role to play with the bat.

The keeper

With Harry Brook’s case for selection in the middle order becoming stronger by the week, the squeeze is on among the wicketkeepers. After underwhelming in the Caribbean, Ben Foakes has a bit to prove, with Jonny Bairstow making two tons in his last four Tests.

Coming straight in from the IPL and a very long winter, Bairstow — a player in McCullum’s mould — will have to hit the ground running, too. A decade into his Test career, his record at No5 is not as good as lower down the order.

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