THEY HAVE gone 11 Tests without winning away from home, their longest winless streak on the road for 70 years.
They have lost nine of those 11 Tests, including a 4-0 thrashing in Australia earlier this winter.
For the two-Test series in New Zealand that starts tomorrow, they have more or less kept faith with the players who failed in the Ashes, bizarrely dropping Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance, who did not play in the Tests.
Their new-ball partnership is creaking at the seams, with suggestions that Stuart Broad could be relegated to the status of first-change bowler as he fights to prolong his international career.
Ben Stokes is back from the Bristol affair, although a court appearance lies in wait, while he picked up a back injury during the recent one-day series that could now disrupt the balance of the side.
If Stokes is not fully fit to bowl, it will prompt several tweaks, including a batsman having to be dropped to accommodate his return instead of a bowler.
The good news?
Well, there is not much of it about, unless one is especially enthused by the call-ups of Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone and Somerset’s Jack Leach, the latter following a stress fracture of the back to Hampshire’s Mason Crane, which, ironically, might well have led to a recall for Yorkshire’s red-ball renegade Adil Rashid.
Whether Livingstone and Leach appear in the day/night Test starting in Auckland tomorrow and/or the second Test starting in Christchurch the following Thursday remains to be seen, but it has lately been a darn sight harder to get into the England side than to get out of it.
New Zealand are formidable on home soil and ranked fourth in the world, one place above England.
As such, anyone who thinks that this series will be a walk in the park for the tourists after the Ashes is venturing into the realms of wish-thinking; indeed, a side featuring the likes of Yorkshire’s Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Tim Southee and Trent Boult ensures that danger will lurk at every turn.
For England, who travel about as well as an airsick pilot, the challenge is simple: to improve their Test away record and to bring their faltering red-ball game more into line with their white-ball form. England’s red-and-white ball cricket is chalk and cheese, a consequence, no doubt, of focusing more on one-day cricket but in no way excusable for that.
In Auckland, of course, the ball will be pink, with the likes of James Anderson hoping to find lateral movement beneath the floodlights. Anderson led the attack well in the Ashes, taking 17 wickets at 27 to prove that, at 35, there is life in the old dog yet.
In contrast, Broad, four years his junior, goes into the series under pressure. Barring injury, he will take the one wicket he needs to join the 400 club, but, after managing only 11 in the Ashes at 47, he can ill-afford another poor series.
A side featuring the likes of Yorkshire’s Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Tim Southee and Trent Boult ensures that danger will lurk at every turnChris Waters
Broad believes that he is back to his best after returning to the indoor nets at Notts and stripping back his action to walking pace, in an effort to rediscover his feel for bowling.
It was 10 years ago in New Zealand that he and Anderson first appeared together in a Test, something that they will hope is more of a statistical staging post than any portent of journey’s end.
The end is nigh for batsman James Vince, unless he can belatedly find some sizeable scores. Mark Stoneman remains under the microscope as Alastair Cook’s opening partner, while Cook himself cannot rest on his laurels despite a double hundred in the Boxing Day Test.
Moeen Ali had a wretched Ashes, averaging 19 with the bat and 115 with the ball. He is set to play his 50th Test in Auckland but will be acutely aware that Leach is breathing heavily down his back.
England felt that they played some good cricket at times in Australia but struggled to find the complete performance. This was epitomised by the output of captain Joe Root, who made five half-centuries but no three-figure score.
Root looks to be running into form, however, while Dawid Malan will hope to maintain his improvement after his runs were a big plus-point during the Ashes.
At the end of a long winter for Team England, the end-game provides a chance for the Test side to get themselves back on track.