A low-key tag to the two-Test series could be offset by few men of the moment, writes Paul Radley.
England-New Zealand cricket series holds promise amid stereotypes
When England and New Zealand indulge in some pitter patter on the hallowed greensward at Lord's today, cricket will seem more than just the 7,000 kilometres removed from that of the Indian Premier League.
Over-hyped razzmatazz this won't be. However, there are enough issues to resolve between two of cricket's ancient elite to give spectators reason to tune in.
Prior not like before
It can be assumed that, even in the bad old days, Matt Prior never had effigies of himself hanging from lampposts.
Yet it is fair to say the turnaround in the affections in which he is held by the British sporting public has been almost Beckham-esque.
Notwithstanding the debut ton at the home of cricket, Prior had a tough start to life as an international sportsman.
He could not keep chickens when he first arrived in the England XI, was lambasted as an oik, and even managed to find his way into a public spat with Sachin Tendulkar. Only one winner there.
How times change.
This week he was named England's Cricketer of the Year on account of his selfless commitment to the national team, becoming the martyr of the cause in the Kevin Pietersen reintegration furore, as well as a hefty weight of valuable runs, too.
New Zealand know only too well that when they get down to No 7 in England's batting order, the hard work has really just begun.
Joe to take root
Prior's case could just go to show that a fast start can be overrated. If you achieve too much early on, where do you go from there?
Joe Root is one such player who might be damned by the curse of promise, having been touted as something like the saviour of civilisation for his early feats in international cricket.
Although expectations were tempered a little in New Zealand at the start of this year, he has been at it again with all that attention-grabbing malarkey.
In four innings to date in the English season, he has made 648 runs. With around four more innings in which to do it, he could become the first batsman since Bill Edrich in the Dark Ages to score a thousand first-class runs before the end of May.
If he does impress at Lord's in this Test, the family will be close at hand to celebrate. One of England's 12th men for this Test will be Root's younger brother, Billy, a member of the Lord's ground staff who toured Abu Dhabi before the start of this season.
Top order torpor
The 0-0 score line in the most recent series between these two sides was a proper throwback.
It recalled the glory days of Test cricket, when sixes were at best risqué and at worst uncouth, when the IPL was barely a twinkle in Lalit Modi's father's eye, and when 15 days of sport failed to produce a definitive result.
There could be a reason for it. England's top order is now decidedly old-fashioned again.
At turns during the series in New Zealand, Alastair Cook played a significant innings at a rate of 29 per 100 balls, Nick Compton at 16 and Jonathan Trott at 37.
Admittedly, they are bare numbers which discount the context in which the innings was played. But none of England's top three is ever knowingly rushed.
Given the T20 era cricket is supposedly peopled by batsmen with short-attention spans, England's top order is antiquated. Not sure whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.
Hello? We're here, too
In all but the eventual denouement, New Zealand had the better of England in that three Test series.
They were one wicket and a sizeable, Prior-shaped obstacle away from clinching it.
And yet they still barely warrant a mention.
Looking past the stereotypes that fog the view of the New Zealand cricket team, we find an emerging side who may be difficult to damn with faint praise for much longer.
In Trent Boult, a top-class left-arm pace bowler at 23, and the 24-year-old newcomer Hamish Rutherford, the tourists have stars in the making.
With Kane Williamson, 22, established, they have a trio of young talents reminiscent of the Stephen Fleming, Nathan Astle and Chris Cairns vintage. And if they are just supposed to be thehors d'oeuvre before the Ashes, there is a good chance England may find them sticking in the gullet.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE