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Kiwis will prove a big challenge but England can clinch the Test series; CRICKET: Build-up has been disjointed but batting line-up looks very promising.

Byline: Steve James on cricket

AH, memories. England's cricketers will be drawing on two differing sets of Kiwi recollections when the Test series against New Zealand begins in Christchurch tonight.

First and most recent is the ignominious 2-1 defeat at home in 1999, Nasser Hussain's first series in charge which began so prosperously with victory at Edgbaston and 99 not out for Alex Tudor (remember him? ), but ended in disarray with defeats at Lord's and The Oval.

England were without a coach as Duncan Fletcher was appointed midway through the series but stayed with us at Glamorgan until taking over for the following winter's South Africa tour.

A shambolic World Cup had preceded this and many felt English cricket could stoop no lower than it did that summer.

But secondly and more reassuring is the 1997 tour to New Zealand where England emerged 2-0 victors, sealing the series wat Christchurch, skipper Mike Atherton leading the way with 118 as the visitors reached an improbable 307.

Our own Robert Croft will have fond memories of that match, claiming a five-wicket haul in the first innings; while Stephen Fleming became New Zealand's youngest ever Test leader at the tender age of 23.

But back to the present. New Zealand's one-day series win should not have that much bearing but their commendable drawn Test series against the Australians before Christmas will.

They never took a backward step against the best side in the world and played positive cricket throughout.

In contrast England were berated for negative tactics in a 1-0 loss to India, so on paper the coming together of these two opposing styles should make an enthralling contest.

But will England adopt similar tactics? I doubt it. That was a plan devised especially for Sachin Tendulkar and the flat Indian wickets.

England's seamers, disappointingly without Darren Gough, will find much more encouragement here and Hussain will be able to attack accordingly.

Andy Caddick's return to form in the lead up matches has been timely.

It is imperative that he is back to his best and firing.

He has been irked in equal measure, both by his omission from the one-day side and also by the critical scrutiny afforded him in the land of his birth.

But now he has found his rhythm he must put these distractions to one side and accept responsibility as the side's spearhead and react accordingly. Much hinges on him I feel.

England's build-up has been disjointed, Hussain taking a week's break while his charges struggled against Otago.

And Fletcher has not been impressed by the fitness levels of the players who have joined since the one-day series. That is disappointing because in truth they should be in much better shape than the players who are already there, their break affording them time to put in some quality work.

Marcus Trescothick has complained of burn-out and the selectors seem in a quandary over what to do about James Foster, especially with Warren Hegg giving a typically effervescent performance against Otago. And even the players involved in the shorter games seem slow to adjust back to longer mode.

Unpropitious portents for England then but New Zealand have some problems of their own. Adam Parore was sufficiently incensed by his oneday omission to state he felt in need of a prolonged rest, effectively ruling himself out of this series.

But peace has now been made and New Zealand will be mighty glad because although Chris Nevin proved a jaunty pinch-hitter, he revealed considerable deficiencies behind the stumps.

In addition exciting fast bowler Shane Bond is still injured, and Daniel Vettori has been doubtful but expects to play.

England's batting promises much and its composition will be fascinating. All I will say is that Michael Vaughan must play, especially after his century against Canterbury, even if that is at the expense of Mark Ramprakash.

Both might play though, depending on how the two all-rounders Andrew Flintoff and Craig White shape up. Both have been short of runs but White's half century this week signalled a welcome return to form.

Flintoff is currently troubled by a knee twinge but his bowling was such a revelation in India that to jettison him is unthinkable in my view.

This series is going to be another close call but again I back England to disprove the auguries and take it.


ANDY CADDICK: Has found his rhythm and is back to his best
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 12, 2002
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