Old test foes both primed, says Ross Taylor
Black Caps batsman Ross Taylor has played down suggestions that the English test players have taken their Antipodean opponents lightly, with the Ashes looming for the tourists mid-year.
Following their current away series against New Zealand, which is poised at 0-0 heading into the third and final test starting at Eden Park tomorrow, the English will head home - where they will host the Black Caps in a two-test series in May.
On paper, both New Zealand tours appear as virtual warm-ups for the much-hyped five-test Ashes series against Australia, who England host in July and August.
Yet Taylor has poured cold water on talk that the English have shown complacency in the longest form of the game in New Zealand, even though they are yet to win a game in the whites against a Kiwi team this summer.
"It's a long way away, that Australian trip," Taylor said.
"Each team goes through different phases and this is obviously in [their] winter, and a few of their test players went home.
"[New Zealand is] probably not an easy place to come and play test cricket straight away. They've got better and better as the series has gone on and I'm sure they'll be even better at Eden Park."
Heading into the "winner-takes-all" clash at Eden Park, England hold a world test ranking of second and New Zealand are eighth. Victory for the Black Caps, and a series victory, would have seemed remote two weeks ago - but with the right amount of grit, luck and misfortune for their English opponents - history could be in the making in Auckland.
The Black Caps last beat England in a test in Hamilton in March 2008, but you have to go back to Stephen Fleming's 1999 tourists of Old Blighty for the last time New Zealand trumped the visitors in a series.
Taylor, who has scored 31, 0 and 41 not out this series, said the mood in the New Zealand camp was good going into the Auckland test.
"[Mike] Hesson and Brendon [McCullum] have been very positive in the way they are talking to everybody and getting us as up for it as possible," he said.
"I don't think you need much motivation. It's 0-0 in the series against England, and they're playing on our home turf.
"It's the first time we've played at Eden Park for a number of years so there's a lot to play for."
Taylor formed an unbroken partnership of 81 with Kane Williamson to show some Kiwi steel late in the weather-affected Wellington test which, but for a day and a half of rain, the Black Caps would have likely lost.
Taylor is feeling better about his cricket.
"I'm starting to hit the ball better than I was two or three weeks ago," he said. " [And] I'm probably more happy with [my] state of mind."