London: England have been left in no doubt about what will be required of them in the first Test against New Zealand starting at Lord's on Thursday. The world's second-ranked team struggled on their recent tour of New Zealand where they were outplayed in the three-Test series, salvaging a 0-0 draw only by stubbornly batting out a gripping final day of the third match in Auckland.
With the five-match Ashes series against Australia starting in July, captain Alastair Cook and his team mates know they must focus fully on beating New Zealand under the enterprising leadership of Brendon McCullum. "They under-performed in New Zealand but you don't just discard somebody because they have had a bad time as a unit," England chairman of selectors Geoff Miller said.
"You say right, not good enough, improve. That's the message they have been given. New Zealand are a good side but we didn't play to the capabilities shown in the past."
"That has got to be rectified. We had one or two injuries to people you would class in your best side but it was very disappointing. They are capable of playing far better than that - and know that - and I'm quietly confident that they'll show they are a better side."
England arrived in New Zealand on a high after their first Test series victory in India since 1985 but their batsmen failed to make enough runs to put the hosts under pressure.
"It keeps your feet on the ground," Miller said. "It makes you realise you can't just go through the motions and expect to win the game because, on paper, you are supposedly superior."
New Zealand, ranked eighth in the world, showed great resilience after a turbulent end to last year in which their captain Ross Taylor was sacked in acrimonious circumstances and they lost two Tests in South Africa in January by an innings.
Peter Fulton made 347 runs in the series against England, including two centuries, and the pace attack of Tim Southee, Neil Wagner and Trent Boult caused the batsmen problems with consistent swing and seam movement.
Southee has been suffering with a toe injury but coach Mike Hesson said he would be fit for Lord's where the touring side are considering picking a four-man pace attack.
"Absolutely that's an option," Hesson said. "We're not closed in our views in terms of what we play. Whoever is left out will be a tough decision but we've got to pick the best side for the conditions."
"Tim's fine," Hesson said. "It was very much a precautionary response from us. He's had some treatment to his toe and we're very comfortable he'll be right for the first Test."
England will be without their leading middle-order batsman Kevin Pietersen through injury but 22-year-old Joe Root has been in prolific form this season, racking up 646 first-class runs including 179 for England Lions against New Zealand to enhance his burgeoning reputation.
He and Jonny Bairstow will bat at numbers five and six for England who are likely to recall off-spinner Graeme Swann who missed the last series with an a elbow injury.
Fast bowler Stuart Broad, who showed signs of a return to form in New Zealand with 11 Test wickets after struggling in India, said England were fully focused on improving their performance.
"We are very determined to put that right," he said. "We have a huge summer ahead of us but there is nothing more important than the first hour on Thursday. We are very focused on just this week."
New Zealand will probably play Doug Bracewell as a fourth pace bowler, leaving out spinner Bruce Martin, and Hesson said they were not afraid to make changes going into the two-Test series.
"It's nice to have unchanged line-ups in a row but not if it's the right 11 for the match....and that'll be the only focus," he said.
England: Alastair Cook (captain), Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior (wicketkeeper), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steve Finn, Tim Bresnan.
New Zealand: Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Dean Brownlie, Brendon McCullum (captain), BJ Watling, Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee, Bruce Martin, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner.