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James Anderson and Stuart Broad have the chance to eclipse Australian greats Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath as the most prolific bowling partnership in Test history this week, after England captain Ben Stokes confirmed they would play together overseas for the first time in over a year.
Warne and McGrath took 1,001 scalps in 104 games together, a record that once looked as though it might stand forever but is now on the verge of being taken by Anderson and Broad.
They have racked up 997 dismissals between them in 132 Tests in tandem and will fancy themselves to crack the four-figure barrier after being announced in the XI for Thursday’s day/night clash against New Zealand at Mount Maunganui.
It is 13 months since the duo last shared a foreign field, producing a determined last-wicket stand in Sydney to salvage the kind of stoic draw that Stokes has all but eradicated from the team’s cricketing vocabulary.
Since then, the pair’s unexpected axing in the West Indies and the arrival of Broad’s first child have kept them apart for seven successive away Tests, but their performances last summer meant England were not tempted to call on back-up seamers Olly Stone or Matthew Potts at the Bay Oval.
For Stokes, who has veered away from the idea of succession planning in favour of picking his strongest side wherever possible, there is nobody better to crack the code of the pink Kookaburra.
“The team we’ve picked, especially with the ball, has all the bases covered, especially in these type of conditions,” he said.
“The bowling group have been great together. They have been discussing what they feel is working. People like Jimmy and Broady, who have played quite a few of these pink-ball matches, are still coming to terms with it.
“Some balls swing, some balls don’t, then they will try to bowl the same ball and it will react differently. But they have bowled really well together and discussed how they feel is the best way to bowl with the pink ball.”
Stokes also feels ready to chip in as a bowler despite going easy on himself so far during training.
He opted out of the two-day warm-up match in Hamilton and delivered throw downs in the nets on Tuesday rather than put any extra stress into his troublesome left knee.
He will step things up during England’s final practice session and plans to use himself at key times if required.
“Warm-up games are something I don’t feel the need to do anymore to get ready for a game. Everything is good,” Stokes explained.
“Bowling-wise, it’s about picking the right moment to bowl. It will be similar to Pakistan, picking when it will be best to get my overs in. I’ve had the last two days off bowling-wise but I’ll have a trundle tomorrow.”
We don’t sit down before any series and go ‘these records need to be broken, let’s go out there and try and do it’ because I’ve never been one for setting myself benchmarks of runs and wickets
The last time England started a Test series, against Pakistan in Rawalpindi in December, they produced an astonishing victory that dialled their new ultra-aggressive approach to new levels.
Over the course of the game they became the first team to rack up 500 on day one of a Test and the first team to score at more than six-an-over in both innings, while Zak Crawley hit the fastest ever century by an England opener, in 86 balls, and Harry Brook clubbed 27 in a single over to claim a new national best.
Stokes has long prioritised wins over statistical milestones but even he cracked a smile at the memory of that statement-making display.
“I’m not going to lie, when Colly (assistant coach Paul Collingwood) read out all the records we’d managed to set or rewritten names into the history books, it was something to look back on and realise how special that game was,” he said.
“But I wouldn’t say we necessarily go out there and try and break these records. I think it’s just something that comes with the way we’ve gone about it.
“We don’t sit down before any series and go ‘these records need to be broken, let’s go out there and try and do it’ because I’ve never been one for setting myself benchmarks of runs and wickets.
“I will look back on my career when I’m finished and look at how many times I’ve affected a game for England to win. It’s something I like to do.”
There is a chance Stokes will need to be creative to ensure a positive result over the coming days, with more rain expected despite the relatively light affects of Cyclone Gabrielle – which has hit other areas of the North Island much worse and forced a state of national emergency.
“I don’t know if the weather is going to play any part in this game going forward, but I’m sure we’ll still come up with a way to hopefully force a result, regardless of how much time is taken away,” he said.
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