- New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Auckland
Cook confirms Bairstow for start
England captain Alastair Cook has confirmed Jonny Bairstow will step in for the injured Kevin Pietersen in the final Test with New Zealand.
Pietersen is due to fly home for surgery on a knee injury that is likely to sideline him for a couple of months. Bairstow filled in when Pietersen was dropped last summer, following off-field controversies, and he will now have a fresh chance to impress.
It will be a tough ask as Bairstow has not played since the Twenty20 series, but Cook has no concerns over the Yorkshireman.
"He's desperately keen to be involved," Cook said. "He only got one knock in the Tests in India. Coming back after playing really well against South Africa at Lord's, to then miss out because of the balance of the team was probably a tough call to make.
"He was obviously very disappointed, and now he's got the other end of the stick - where he gets a last-minute chance to play well. If you're in the shirt and you put in a really good performance it makes it great for the side and makes competition for places even better."
Brendon McCullum has called the deciding Test against England "an opportunity to create history" with his New Zealand team having a chance to take a series against them at home for only the second time.
After a dominant draw in Dunedin and a backs-to-wall, rain-assisted escape in Wellington the series has come down to one match in Auckland. A few weeks ago that was an unexpected situation, but New Zealand have returned to the gutsy, fighting and occasionally aggressive brand of cricket that has so often defined them particularly at home.
For McCullum, installed to the captaincy during a messy transition after the tour of Sri Lanka that could have caused irreparable damage, it would be his finest hour but he is trying to view this match no differently to the previous two.
"You still have to try and prepare your team in the same way regardless of how significant the occasion is," he said. "But if we manage to get the result we want after five hard days then you look back and say we've got some fruits for the labour. That's something that will give all the people who support the team, and are involved in it, that little bit of hope and satisfaction that we are heading in the right direction.
"I think we have taken some small steps and it would be fantastic if we can get this result. There's an opportunity to create history so we'll be turning our intentions to how we can best get ourselves in front."
For England, who have spent most of the last seven months touring Sri Lanka, India and New Zealand, the prospect of losing a series to a team ranked six places below them should be enough to ward off any thoughts of the journey home.
Of all the challenges England have faced recently, this Test series was one firmly put in the 'will win' column. So far it has not quite worked out that way. They were stymied by rain in Wellington, but could yet come back to rue their awful batting on the second morning in Dunedin. If they had managed to take an early grasp on the series it might have been too much for fragile New Zealand confidence.
Instead, the home side built belief during that first Test, not all of which was washed away by the problems they faced at the Basin Reserve. Even though England controlled the second Test they were made to work hard at times with bat and ball. There is nothing false about the score line entering the final Test.
"For the fans of New Zealand cricket, they want to see our Test game improving and we equally do. That's why this series so far has been really good for us but we know we will be judged on how we finish," McCullum said.
Having scaled the heights in India (a feat looking better by the day) it would be careless if England let this series slip from them. It would also impact their ranking points; a 1-0 series defeat will see them fall from 118 to 112 which, if India beat Australia 4-0, would put them level with India. If England lose and Australia win the final Test in Delhi, Michael Clarke's (or Shane Watson's) team will move ahead of them; more early sparring in an Ashes year.