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Auckland light show well balanced

Auckland light show well balanced

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The return of all-rounder Ben Stokes to the fold for England could not have come at a better time as they attempt to make up for an Ashes drubbing earlier this winter.

Having been trounced 4-0 in Australia, the tourists hope to do better in a two-Test series across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand.

And Stokes, a native of New Zealand, is set to return to the Test scene after an enforced absence during the action in Australia.

Having shown up well in the limited-overs series, England will hope that Stokes can add some much-needed balance and inspiration for the Test arena, which starts with a day-night clash in Auckland, where the Three Lions have only won one of their last seven Tests.

Stokes has only played two Test matches against the country of his birth and will no doubt be eager to make up for lost time, so 35/4 to be man of the match is worth considering.

Skipper Joe Root is 29/4 to take the man of the match award and has a point to prove against the Black Caps, having averaged a mere 17.60 in his only previous series in New Zealand.

An overall average of 39.53 against the Black Caps could also do with improving, with Root having gone 12 innings without a century in Test cricket.

A slightly longer shot is wicketkeeper-batsman Jonny Bairstow, who impressed in the recent limited-overs series and who also made one of only three England centuries in the Ashes’ drubbing.

Bairstow, 17/1 to be the man of the match, has passed 50 only once in six Test innings against the Black Caps and is capable of much, much better.

With the ball England will again expect James Anderson to lead the way, but Stuart Broad heads into the game with plenty of reasons to be motivated.

One wicket short of the 400-mark, Broad suffered a dismal series in Australia and may also lose the new-ball duties against the Black Caps.

That should ensure a fired-up Broad is raring to go and he is 11/1 to be man of the match, while if spin comes to the fore Moeen Ali is 13/1 to take the honours in what is set to be his 50th Test appearance.

For the hosts, with the bat, much rests on the shoulders of captain Kane Williamson, who averages in excess of 50 in 63 Tests overall and a touch over 56 on home soil.

The diminutive right-hander has only one century in seven Tests against England and will have his sights set on a series-defining innings in Auckland, with Williamson 31/4 to be man of the match.

Should the vastly-experienced Ross Taylor be passed fit to play, he is also worth watching at 15/1.

With the ball the hosts have seen their main spin weapon of left-armer Mitchell Santner disappear after he suffered a serious knee injury which will keep him out of action for months to come.

However, they do have a pace combination which is among the most potent in recent Test history.

Over the last 30 years only three combinations have taken more wickets when playing together than Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner.

The Black Caps trio have taken an amazing 316 wickets in the 24 Tests they have played together, with Boult and Southee using the new ball and Wagner backing that up with aggression aplenty as first change.

Boult has 32 wickets in seven Tests against England and at 13/1 to be man of the match is the bowler most likely to benefit from the conditions under the lights and the pink ball which should offer plenty of swing.

Southee has not fared quite as well against the Three Lions and that is reflected in 17/1 to be man of the match, with fiery left-armer Wagner also at 17/1 as his record is similar to that of his colleague.

In the overall match result market England are favoured at 5/4 to come out on top, in large part because they have only ever lost four Test matches in New Zealand, having played 47 in the country in total.

However, with two of those losses having come in the last seven and with the tourists having escaped with a drawn series last time they visited the Black Caps, the hosts will certainly fancy their chances.

A home win for Williamson and co is a worthwhile option at 19/10, while the weather often plays a part in New Zealand as it does in England, so the draw at 47/20 also has some merit.

The Black Caps only claimed a first Test win in Auckland over England in 2002, while 11 years later they came within one wicket of winning the match and the series, so recent form in the city is slightly in their favour.

Another market which might tempt you is a century to be scored in the match, with no ton to be completed available at 23/4, which could be a realistic prospect if the pink ball decides to wobble around under the floodlights.

The first wicket to fall in the match always appears to be a market which could offer a return as long as a catch is not the method of dismissal.

That, at 5/12, offers no value at all, but clean bowled at 15/4 and leg before wicket at 15/4 both have plenty to recommend with the seamers expected to gain plenty of help with the new ball.

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Adrian Mills Adrian has enjoyed a journalistic career spanning over three decades, with cricket his specialised topic. He also has a wealth of knowledge on football, golf and tennis and has the stats to back up his betting advice.