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No-one wants an albatross around their necks pre-Test

Posted in England in New Zealand 2008

Well the sunshine disappeared as quickly as the England batting order in Dunedin. Not really the preparation that was hoped for as having won the toss England collapsed to 131 all out. Only Kevin Pietersen performed with any authority, and it's probably safe to say he'll be in the team come the first Test in Hamilton next week!

What is less clear - by Peter Moores' own admission - is the rest of the line-up. Will Strauss secure a spot batting at three, or will the form of Owais Shah gain him the nod? As I write, Strauss is at the crease in what will be his final innings before the Test, and possibly his final chance to cement that place. Elsewhere there was slightly brighter news as Steve Harmison collected a five wicket haul to help dismiss the Otago Representatives for 271.

England v New Zealand Selection XI

A healthy lead nonetheless, but it would seem he has secured a bowling berth in Hamilton. The England spearhead gradually found better rhythm, but it was without doubt the bounce he generated which caused the opposing batsmen most discomfort.

With discomfort in mind, Paul Collingwood became a mild doubt for the Test with a grade one hamstring tear, but as he was seen batting in the nets he is expected to play without too much discomfort. Concerns still surround Ryan Sidebottom as he recovers from a similar injury, and as he will be expected to get through a large amount of overs in the Test his fitness will have to be one hundred percent.

On this second day the rain has dribbled out of the sky, putting paid to the morning. Harmison then dominated the second session, and as England begin their innings they find themselves two down - Vaughan and Cook both departing. At this point in time an innings defeat is looming like the heavy cloud cover.

Away from the current gloom of the cricket, the peninsular running parallel to Dunedin is a feast of wildlife, with sea lions, penguins, the odd shark and most famously a beach inhabited by albatross. Having ventured there to sample the neck-aching bird, I was expecting an experience at one with nature.

This was before I was unofficially mugged by the woman demanding $40 for entry. With a queue of elderly ladies behind me all happily getting out their giros, I felt obliged to invest in the experience. Needless to say, I didn't see an albatross.

However, later in the day, after an excellent visit to Larnach Castle - the only castle in New Zealand, and home to some breathtaking views - I ventured to an isolated beach known as Seal Point. Home to rare penguins and some pretty immense sea lions, it was a free experience and far more rewarding as well.

However, it's fortunate I'm on my fitness regime as the sand dunes are extremely steep. Getting down isn't the problem - indeed it took me about twenty seconds to walk briskly, jog, run, sprint, tasmanian devil, and then stack it into the sands. Having survived, getting back up the dune is a herculean effort. Said giro tourists were not in attendance.

Since then the clouds have followed from Christchurch and England have struggled. Too much can sometimes be read into warm-up encounters, but the team will not want a defeat playing on their minds as they travel to Hamilton on Sunday. By then we can only assume that the line-up will be pretty much finalised (barring any dramatic pitch inspections), and the battle for Test supremacy will begin.

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