Stuart Broad return, opening issues and rapid record: What's at stake on England's New Zealand tour
This England tour has started like no other with a week of rest and play in New Zealand’s adventure capital of Queenstown before getting down to serious preparations for the two-Test series.
Brendon McCullum organised a bonding camp, beginning an Ashes year in relaxed fashion with no cricket on the agenda until the squad moved to the north island over the weekend.
A four-day warm up this week in Hamilton has been trimmed to two days, the modern trend of eschewing practice games continuing despite England not winning a Test in New Zealand for 15 years.
Here Telegraph Sport looks at the issues to be resolved on the tour ahead of this summer's battle against Australia.
Stuart Broad's place in pecking order
Loyalty is very important to Ben Stokes, and Stuart Broad was the only seamer to play the entire summer. His paternity leave for the Pakistan tour allowed Ollie Robinson back in to further his reputation and eclipse Broad as James Anderson’s new ball partner. If England opt for pace then Olly Stone will play and Matt Potts will be fresh after missing Pakistan and is capable of the donkey work that is beyond Broad now. Stokes, though, will want to see how Broad reacts to the younger rivals so expect him to start.
Harry Brook and Ben Foakes to keep out Jonny Bairstow?
It has been a long time since you could write down England’s preferred top seven as easily as now after the triumphs of Pakistan. Harry Brook was a sensation, and Ben Foakes, in his only Test, showed England are a better side with him keeping as well as providing calm backup if the firecrackers splutter. But Jonny Bairstow was the embodiment of Bazball, his singleminded desire to win so important in the early days of this regime. He did nothing wrong - he just suffered a freak injury - but will not be fit until the Ireland Test. It is inconceivable Brook will be dropped even if he has a poor tour to New Zealand which puts Foakes under pressure again but - like Bairstow - that brings the best out of him.
Olly Stone's chance to shine
A return to fitness in South Africa was great news for England and the fast bowler looked sharp too. He will play in one Test, in all likelihood, as England pick and choose carefully when and where to use their quick but vulnerable pace bowlers. Jofra Archer and Mark Wood are not on this tour, so Stone offers the only genuine pace option that Wood showed was so important in Pakistan.
It is hard to see changes to the top six before the Ashes apart from a possible shuffle to accommodate Bairstow but of those in the side right now the two openers have the most to prove. Ben Duckett had a good tour to Pakistan, returning to Test cricket with a hundred and two other good scores above fifty at important times. He is such a strong player of spin but looked less assured in the South Africa ODIs where he made three, 20 and nought - beaten twice by pace and bounce outside off stump form the quicks. The New Zealand pitches rarely offer much life but there will be more lateral movement than Pakistan, not hard, and that will pose a new problem. Zak Crawley started Pakistan with a hundred but ended up averaging below 40. Both batted at a gallop, of course, and selflessly for the team and there are not really any alternatives, but Australia will be watching closely.
Can Gilbert Jessop rest in peace again?
Poor Gilbert. His 121-year record for England’s fastest hundred off 76 balls has been threatened multiple times in the Stokes era, after decades of safety. Bairstow came within two balls at Trent Bridge, Brook five in Rawalpindi and whenever and England batsmen gets going at the moment Jessop’s name pops up again. Surely it is only a matter of time before one of them breaks it and the small grounds of New Zealand and the flat pitches offer many scoring chances. A tour with nothing at stake - it is not part of the Test championship - seems like as good a place as any, especially with Stokes one six short of breaking McCullum’s Test record and smarting form a top score of just 41 In Pakistan.