New Zealand have been dealt a significant blow ahead of the Test series against England with allrounder Mitchell Santner ruled out due to his ongoing right knee problem. However, wicketkeeper BJ Watling returns having missed the matches against West Indies in December.
Todd Astle, the legspinner, is the one frontline spinner included in a 12-man squad while Ross Taylor is expected to be fit after the thigh injury which kept him out of the deciding ODI in Christchurch following his unbeaten 181 to level the series in Dunedin.
Santner produced career-best form with the bat in the one-day series but has been troubled by his knee issue for much of the season. He was forced to sit out the record-breaking T20 against Australia at Eden Park in February.
At times during the one-day series, especially on practice days, he has looked in discomfort but managed to play all five games – although he bowled just two overs in Wellington – and scored 216 runs including two half-centuries at No. 6, twice bettering his previous high scores.
There are concerns the knee problem could require a lengthy period on the sidelines and put his Chennai Super Kings deal at the IPL and his English county stint with Derbyshire at risk. Santner had been included for the two-day pink-ball match against England in Hamilton starting on Wednesday before the seriousness of the injury became clear.
In the short term, Santner’s absence will mean rejgging New Zealand’s middle order. Against West Indies earlier this season he was batting at No. 6 although Watling’s return after a hip problem offers the option of him filling that position. Colin de Grandhomme could then follow at No. 7, where he scored 185 runs in three innings in the West Indies series, including a maiden century off 71 balls. Also, though Santner’s Test record with the ball of 34 wickets at 37.05 does not leap out, his economy rate of 2.79 has offered Kane Williamson important control.
Astle’s inclusion ahead of Ish Sodhi, who impressed during the one-day series, highlights the loss of Santner’s batting and the impact on New Zealand’s balance. Astle, who has played two Tests in four years, is a far better batsman than Sodhi and could slot in at No. 8 followed by the three frontline quicks – Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner – although there remains the outside chance New Zealand could go pace-heavy for the pink-ball Test at Eden Park and include Matt Henry.
Watling’s return had been telegraphed by coach Mike Hesson earlier in the week when he said he was showing no signs of pain having regained the gloves for Northern Districts in the Plunket Shield. He was ruled out of the West Indies series due to a hip complaint that, while not stopping him batting, made wicketkeeping very painful.
His replacement, Tom Blundell, made a century on debut in Wellington but Watling is a highly-valued member of the squad and averages 38.05 from 52 Tests.
“BJ is a proven performer at Test level for us and brings a lot to the group both on and off the field,” selector Gavin Larsen said. “We’ve monitored BJ’s progress over the past few months and it’s great to see him back with the gloves for Northern Districts. Tom Blundell did a great job in BJ’s absence and we’ll keep working with him going forward.”
The rest of the squad is as expected with Jeet Ravel opening alongside Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls taking the No. 5 spot. Taylor had initially been pencilled in for the second two-day game against England at Seddon Park, but after the one-day series Hesson said he would not be risked ahead of the Test series.
The players not involved in the New Zealand XIs over the next four days in Hamilton will join a training camp in Mount Maunganui ahead of the day-night Test at Eden Park which starts on March 22.
New Zealand squad Jeet Raval, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Colin de Grandhomme, BJ Watling, Todd Astle, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Matt Henry, Trent Boult