New Zealand will stick to same squad for Hamilton
New Zealand will not seek a quick fix after losing their first home Test in the summer and confirmed they will not make any changes to the squad ahead of a must-win Test in Hamilton. The same group that lost to South Africa in three days at the Basin Reserve will be expected to step up at Seddon Park, with Ross Taylor unavailable as he continues to struggle with a low-grade calf tear sustained in the first Test. Trent Boult is a "work in progress" after picking up an upper-leg injury and there is no space for legspinner Ish Sodhi, who was being touted to play on what is expected to be a slow surface.
"We've got 100% faith in the fact that we've got what we think are the best group of Test cricketers in the country," Gavin Larsen, New Zealand's selector said. "It's about getting into Hamilton, getting the covers off, having a look at the pitch, having a look at some balance, thinking about what transpired down here in Wellington and about the best way to beat a very good South African team. I am very confident the coach and captain will come up with the right XI on the day."
The selection conundrums lie in the lower order and the bowling attack, with all eyes on whether Boult will return to lead it. Boult sat out the second Test but returned to bowling and should be fit which will lead to yet another change in the make-up of New Zealand's bowling. They have plenty of choice with four seamers - Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner and Matt Henry, two specialist spinners in Jeetan Patel and Mitchell Santner, who is also regarded as one of the three allrounders alongside Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme - but have yet to find the perfect combination.
In Dunedin, New Zealand opted for two spinners and two seamers, leaving out Southee to make room for Patel. In Wellington, Southee returned but Boult's injury saw them look past Matt Henry and include de Grandhomme, who sat out the first Test because Jimmy Neesham was preferred. In both instances, New Zealand tried to give themselves batting depth but both times they were disappointed.
Neesham scored 7 in Dunedin and 15 and 4 in Wellington; de Grandhomme managed 4 and 0 at the Basin Reserve and Larsen expects more from both of them. "The allrounders will be the first to admit that their run output hasn't been enough. The reason we play a couple of allrounders was to stiffen up the batting and it didn't quite transpire that way down at No.8. There is work to do and we must get run production through that area," he said.
More so because runs are not coming at the top, where Tom Latham has 24 runs in the series and after scoring 0, 2 and 0 in the ODIs. Without any viable replacements, Latham's position is not in any real doubt, though. He spent Monday in the nets with batting coach Craig McMillan working on the technical glitch that has seen him nick off in his last three Test innings, and Larsen tips him to come good in Hamilton.
"He is a classy player, a great individual and part of our leadership team. He is in a rut and he is battling a bit with his form but we believe he has got the character and the work ethic to work himself out of this rut," Larsen said. "If there were a number of candidates around the country who were absolutely shooting the lights out and putting in front of the selectors really compelling reasons that we needed to consider them and pick them, we would have had that conversation. But as you know, there aren't a lot of openers out there shooting the lights out."
Neither are there that many other batsmen breaking down the door in other positions. Colin Munro was considered a front-runner to step in for Taylor but New Zealand opted for someone with more first-class experience in Neil Broom. Broom had a forgettable debut after falling for a four-ball duck in the first innings but his 20 in the second dig showed Larsen some good signs that he could develop into a Test batsman.
"In the first innings, he was really unlucky. He got a real peach of a delivery, a jaffa, and that can happen," Larsen said. "In the second innings, I thought he got his innings underway really well. It was testing against the ball that was moving around. Vernon Philander bowled extremely well to him and he navigated that successfully so it was disappointing when he nicked off for 20. Again, it was to a good one so we have faith that Neil will do the job at No. 4."
Broom probably only has one more Test to prove that because once Taylor is ready to play, Larsen confirmed he would slot back into the XI. "His (Taylor's) experience and his class is just so evident and he would have been straight back into the unit," he said. But New Zealand will have to wait nine months to see Taylor in whites again.
Their next Test assignment is scheduled for December when they host West Indies. That may put extra emphasis on the result of the Hamilton Test and so, they need to recover from Wellington as quickly as possible and commit to an overall improvement. "We need more runs, the bowling needs to be tidied up and I just want to see a greater fight which I think is a hallmark of the good Black Cap teams," Larsen said.
They also need their coach Mike Hesson, who laid low with an illness, back on his feet. Hesson was unable to attend the third day's play or address the media post-match but is on the mend. "He is not flash. He suffered. He is looking a shadow of his former self. I think he has lost a couple of kilograms," Larsen said. "But he is a fighter and a damn resilient character."
If New Zealand are to share the series spoils, they need to be those things too.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent