- Special Pages
AUCKLAND: At Eden Park New Zealand have an opportunity to end their summer of discontent in a most unexpected way.
For the Kiwis, after their humbling away to world number ones South Africa at the start of the year, the possibility of beating England is tantalising.
England have not lost a Test series in New Zealand for almost 30 years but, after draws in Dunedin and Wellington, are only one match away from that eventuality.
Auckland hosts the final Test of the series at Eden Park where England will be hoping the wicket offers more to the bowlers, giving a chance of a result.
The tame surfaces seen in the series so far have meant England have struggled to take hold of either match, their first innings collapse in Dunedin leaving them batting for a draw and a stoic Kane Williamson and the rain keeping them out in Wellington.
England had one injury setback but avoided another on the eve ofthe match.
Batsman Kevin Pietersen was ruled out of the match with a knee injury on Wednesday and will be sidelined for six weeks, missing the entire Indian Premier League in which he’d been expecting to take up a record $1.3m contract.
Jonny Bairstow is likely to replace Pietersen, joining 22-year-old Joe Root in a young middle order.
Fast bowler James Anderson has declared himself fit for the match after recovering from heel and back injuries which hampered him during the drawn second Test at Wellington.
Both the first and second Tests were rain-affected and ended in tame draws.
The first day of the first Test was lost to rain and most of the last two days of the second Test were washed out, leaving the series to be decided on a drop-in pitch at Auckland.
Meanwhile, England captain Alastair Cook was forced to defend the decision to allow Pietersen to play the first two Tests against New Zealand despite being hampered by a knee injury that forced him out of the series decider.
The 32-year-old was experiencing discomfort in a warmup match prior to the first test at University Oval and spent time off the field in Dunedin, where he looked out of sorts while fielding.
He played the second game at the Basin Reserve but the England team management and medical staff decided not to risk aggravating his injury any further in Auckland as Cook’s side prepare for back-to-back Ashes series later this year.
“It was done on a game by game basis. Before every game ... you do what you do with every player and assess them before every game,” Cook told reporters at Eden Park.
“Clearly he felt, and we felt, he could get through those two games and this game might be a step too far.
“It has got progressively worse so we made the decision that he would now go home and it will be looked at.”
Pietersen will return to England later on Thursday to see a surgeon, Cook said, where a full prognosis would be made.
Initial assessments had said Pietersen would need up to six weeks off to recover, suggesting he could be available for the return series against New Zealand before Cook’s side host the Champions Trophy one day tournament and then play Australia for the Ashes.
While having a player of Pietersen’s calibre, presuming he did not require surgery, well rested ahead of their heavy domestic summer workload, Cook was not over the moon at the prospect of the right hander needing time away from the game.
“At the moment it’s not good for English cricket because one of our biggest players and better batters has got injury concerns heading into the English summer. That’s not ideal,” he said.