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New Zealand and England meet again; expect it to be close

MOUNT MAUNGANUI, New Zealand (AP) — Having played to stalemates in 20-over and 50-over forms, New Zealand and England meet in the first test of a two-match series that should again be close. England beat New Zealand on a count back of boundaries in the final of the 50-overs World Cup in July when the teams couldn't be separated after 100 overs and after a tie-breaker Super Over.

In their more-recent Twenty20 series in New Zealand, England took a 3-2 series win when the fifth match was decided by a Super Over. Relying on an impressive home record, New Zealand hopes to avoid a similar cliff-hanger in the five-day format that opens Thursday. Drubbed by Australia in the Ashes series in September, England rebuilds under new coach Chris Silverwood.

New Zealand's home advantage is formidable. It has won 10 of its last 12 test series at home — 10 of its last 15 tests — and hasn't lost to England in the last six tests between the teams in New Zealand.

New Zealand has a stable lineup and many of its key players, including captain Kane Williamson, are playing in their own backyard. Williamson counts as his home ground Bay Oval in the coastal township of Mount Maunganui, which will host a test match for the first time.

Williamson lacks time in the middle due to recent injuries, but has two centuries in his last four innings against England. The Kiwi captain and teammates Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls have all averaged more than 60 over the last two seasons, forming an established batting lineup with Jeet Raval, Ross Taylor and Colin de Grandhomme.

Medium pacer de Grandhomme and left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner provide bowling variation. England's captain Joe Root is short of recent runs but has the chance, away from the searing spotlight of the Ashes series, to recover his form.

England has firebrand fast bowler Jofra Arthur, whose pace rattled Australia captain Steve Smith during the recent Ashes series. Members of the New Zealand A team, which played England in a recent warm-up match, were also startled by the pace.

New Zealand has chosen not to try to match Arthur, denying a test debut to its fastest bowler Lockie Ferguson. It will stick with its usual new ball partnership of Trent Boult and Tim Southee, supported by the workhorse Neil Wagner.

England has handed a debut to opener Dom Sibley as it continues to search for a stable opening partnership following the retirement of Alastair Cook. Sibley will open with his former Surrey teammate Rory Burns.

Ollie Pope remains at No. 6 for England, and left-armer Sam Curran has been chosen ahead of Chris Woakes. “They've got some real world-class players,” New Zealand coach Gary Stead said of England. “We'll have to be somewhere near the top of our game throughout the whole series.”

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