London: New Zealand have arrived in London with coach Mike Hesson insisting the Black Caps are determined to be more than just a warm-up act for the Ashes series later in the English season. Such is the interest in the Ashes, which pits England against arch-rivals Australia in the latest edition of cricket's oldest Test rivalry, that many fans in the sport's birthplace could be forgiven for not noticing New Zealand's arrival.
But a cricket side used to being overshadowed in a country where rugby union and the world champion All Blacks dominate the sporting landscape are determined to make their mark in a two-Test series featuring matches at Lord's and Headingley this month. In March, New Zealand came close to defeating England only to be denied by century-maker Matt Prior and last man Monty Panesar as Alastair Cook's side clung on for a third Test draw that ensured a shared series. "I can guarantee from our perspective these two Tests are massive for us," Hesson told reporters at the team's London hotel on Wednesday.
"We are making progress as a side and we certainly wouldn't like to be the entrée for the main course later on."Both New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor, the man he controversially replaced as skipper, are due to arrive late on tour because of their Indian Premier League commitments and aren't expected until before the second warm-up match against the England Lions (the national A side) in Leicester starting on May 9.
"I'm actually quite happy with it because with a squad of 15 it's quite hard to get everyone a game," said Hesson ahead of a three-day tour opener against Midlands county Derbyshire starting on Saturday. "Those guys, although they haven't been playing a lot, they have been training a lot. To get our whole squad involved in those two warm-up games is critical for us. In previous tours we haven't even had any warm-up matches so two is huge. There will be no complaints from us about being underdone.
"Meanwhile Hesson said he did not expect the dramatic climax to the Auckland match to have any bearing on the forthcoming series with England, although his frustration in the Black Caps' failure to force a victory was evident. "I've tried to forget about that game to be honest, especially the end of it," Hesson said. "We felt we dominated but that's the game. These two Tests will be tough in very different conditions. We gained a lot of confidence, but it was a series in isolation and we can't get carried away. "The first Test at Lord's gets underway on May 16 before the teams travel north to Leeds for the second Test at Headingley, due to start on May 24. England and New Zealand are then scheduled to meet in three one-day internationals ahead of the 50 overs per side Champions Trophy tournament in the UK.