Third Test preview: New Zealand v England

England

England's inability to trump a New Zealand unit six positions inferior in the International Cricket Council has been brushed off too easily.

England's inability to trump a New Zealand unit six positions inferior in the International Cricket Council has been brushed off too easily. Yes, the rain hampered ambition in Dunedin and Wellington, but the tourists were really expected to be in the lead by now.

Instead, what might've proved a deadrubber is now a series decider – and thoughts of the upcoming Champions Trophy and the Ashes must be shelved for the next week, to instead focus on the task at hand rather than future plans.

Kevin Pietersen's cranky right knee and initial doubts over James Anderson haven't helped. With Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann already sidelined, further injury worries during a rather inconsequential tour – prior to two big series – would genuinely hurt.

Jonny Bairstow is the correct pick to replace Pietersen, but affording Graham Onions a game ahead of Anderson – and perhaps Chris Woakes instead of Steven Finn – wouldn't be untoward. To a degree, England's kingpins need to be wrapped in cotton wool before the arrival of the Australians.

The Black Caps, as Brendon McCullum has insisted, will not be playing for the draw. A return to the long-lost Eden Park presents an outstanding opportunity to upstage the bigger guns. The relatively unknown variables of the drop-in pitch will surely help a blossoming attack.

Doug Bracewell, back from injury, might feature. One of Tim Southee, Neil Wagner and Trent Boult require a rest, and Bracewell's return would probably spell the weary Boult's exit. Bruce Martin, meanwhile, continues to prove the find of the series – at the ripe old age of 32.

While it was touch and go in South Africa, New Zealand have gelled considerably better at home. The transition between Ross Taylor's exit as captain and McCullum's latest promotion wasn't seamless – but certainly stitched well this month. A rare triumph over England would surely sew it all up appropriately.

<b>Key Men</b><br><b>Kane Williamson</b> sports a certain solidity not witnessed in other New Zealand batsmen. If not McCullum, the diminutive right-hander will have a hefty say – whether or not the openers allow him a solid platform.

Opportunity knocks for <b>Jonny Bairstow</b> to push for further selection, if not cement a spot. Pietersen's eventual return will sideline the Yorkshireman again, but for now there is plenty of food for thought to offer the selectors.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2013; Second Test drawn in Wellington<br>2013: First Test: Match drawn in Dunedin<br>2008: Third Test: England won by an innings and nine runs in Nottingham<br>2008: Second Test: England won by six wickets in Manchester<br>2008: First Test: Match drawn at Lord's

<b>Prediction</b><br>Online betting firm <a href='http://www.skybet.com/cricket' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>Sky Bet</b></a> have New Zealand at 6/1 and England at 4/7 in the odds to win the third Test. Visit Sky Bet for the latest cricket <a href='http://www.skybet.com/cricket' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>betting</b></a>.

More <a href='http://https://twitter.com/bet365' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>cricket bets here.</b></a>

<b>Probable Teams</b><br><i>New Zealand:</i> Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Dean Brownlie, Brendon McCullum (captain), BJ Watling, Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee, Bruce Martin, Neil Wagner.

<i>England:</i> Alastair Cook (captain), Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Steve Finn, James Anderson, Monty Panesar.

<b>Dates:</b> 22-26 March<br><b>Morning session:</b> 10:30-12:30 (21:30-23:30 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 13:10-15:10 (00:10-02:10 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 15:30-17:30 (02:30-04:30 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Paul Reiffel and Rod Tucker<br><b>Third umpire:</b> Steve Davis<br><b>Match referee:</b> Roshan Mahanama

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