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Cricket: England seek to clinch series without Pietersen

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

New Zealand and England face off in a winner-takes-all third and final Test this week, with the tourists striving for a series-clinching victory despite the absence of star batsman Kevin Pietersen.

After rain-affected draws in Dunedin and Wellington, hopes are high for a result in the match beginning Friday at Auckland's Eden Park.

New Zealand eye a rare series win and England will seek to cement their position as the number-two ranked Test nation.

England are short-priced favourites to prevail in Auckland. Anything less against the unfancied Black Caps would be widely seen as a failure despite Pietersen's absence with a knee injury.

The batsman will miss both the last Test and the Indian Premier League due to the injury which may sideline him for up to eight weeks, the England and Wales Cricket Board said in a statement Wednesday.

Clear weather is forecast for the Test and Eden Park's drop-in wicket promises more bounce than the docile pitches of the opening two fixtures, which have drawn criticism from the England camp.

"In an ideal world a pitch with more pace and bounce would make for a more exciting wicket," England captain Alastair Cook said.

"But whichever pitch we get in Auckland we'll try to find the best way to win the game."

New Zealand, ranked eighth in Test cricket, have not won a series against England since 1999, with their sole series victory on home soil back in 1984.

Skipper Brendon McCullum, whose only other Test series since taking the helm late last year resulted in two innings defeats to South Africa, said a victory would provide a huge boost for his team.

"We go into every game trying to win. Certainly, for us, it's not about trying to hang on for a draw," he said.

"We see this as a great opportunity to clinch a series win against England and that's something that we'd all hold very fondly."

For England, victory would maintain their momentum with back-to-back Ashes series against Australia looming later this year.

But Cook said his side had to ignore the pressure and simply play according to the conditions in Auckland.

"It's now a one-match Test series and you can't go into the game fretting about the outcome from the start," he said.

"You need to set up the game then worry about the result. There are no easy matches in international cricket."

Few pundits predicted a close series when the tourists arrived, with England tipped to continue the dominant form they showed in India.

Instead, the early tour jitters that have plagued England in recent years emerged as their powerful batting line-up self-destructed with a succession of rash shots trying to bludgeon the Black Caps into submission.

Rain delays meant New Zealand ran out of time chasing victory in Dunedin. The situation was reversed in Wellington, where England had the Black Caps on the ropes only for the weather to intervene again.

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