Mike Hesson, the New Zealand coach, said earlier this week that he did not want the upcoming England v New Zealand series to be just a warmup for the Ashes. This is understandable on many levels. I doubt anyone would want their team to be the ‘other’ tourist no matter what the occasion and especially now New Zealand have a very good reason to think they deserve more. They so very nearly beat England in New Zealand two months ago and deserved more than the 0-0 draw that they got. In any other circumstances that would make the return trip a mouth-watering series.
But these are not normal circumstances. I hate that New Zealand have been given a paltry two-Test series in an Ashes year, but they have. And that means that, fair or not, they are the Ashes warmup. There is simply no way that a two Test series against New Zealand, even a New Zealand side who have played very well, is going to match the hype and expectation of a five-Test Ashes series. It’s not a slight on the skill of the New Zealand team; I don’t think the England team are taking the series against New Zealand lightly and certainly as a fan I know I am not, but I still think of this as an Ashes summer and Australia as the main opponents. The series against New Zealand should make for a very good appetiser and a very interesting appetiser, but it is an appetiser nonetheless. The only way a series, any series, ahead of the Ashes will be anything but an appetiser is if the ECB and Cricket Australia finally succeed in staging an Ashes series every year.
Hopefully the New Zealand team to take some umbrage at that; I would love to see them fired up and trying to prove a point. But there is no point trying to deny it or wish it away.