Wellington rain leaves New Zealand waiting to decide on fourth bowler

New Zealand

New Zealand will make a decision just before the toss as to whether they will pick a fourth seamer in Scott Kuggeleijn or a specialist spinner in Mitchell Santner for the first Test against Australia at the Basin Reserve after Wednesday’s rain meant the pitch remained under covers all day.

Opener Devon Conway was ruled out on Wednesday morning due to his thumb injury with Will Young retaining his place in the Test XI and moving to the top of the order to open alongside Tom Latham. Daryl Mitchell slots back into No. 5 after missing the second Test against South Africa with a foot issue.

Captain Tim Southee, Matt Henry and William O’Rourke will be the three seamers after their success against South Africa, but a decision is yet to be made on the fourth bowler. Southee did not get a look at the pitch on Wednesday due to the persistent Wellington rain and said a decision on the final XI would wait until Thursday morning.

“The majority of the team is settled,” he said. “We’ll have one final look obviously with the weather around and one final decision on whether an extra seamer or a spinner will play, but obviously with Devon Conway’s unfortunate injury Will Young comes in and will open the batting.

“Injuries are part of cricket. But it also presents opportunities for other people. Will Young’s coming off 60-odd not out in the Test in Hamilton against South Africa.”

New Zealand played four fast bowlers in their last Test in Hamilton with Neil Wagner the fourth seamer in that XI but he has since announced his retirement after being told he would not be selected in this series against Australia.

New Zealand coach Gary Stead admitted on Tuesday that not picking a specialist spinner in Hamilton was a mistake after South Africa offspinner Dane Piedt took eight wickets for the match while Rachin Ravindra bagged four and Glenn Phillips two, despite O’Rourke claiming nine on debut to be named Player of the Match.

Since the start of 2000, spin bowlers have averaged 40.84 at the Basin with the pace bowlers averaging 31.93. Southee said the presence of Ravindra and Phillips in the top six does give him some confidence that they have spin bowling options if they were to pick four seamers.

“Yeah [it does], and I think you throw in Daryl Mitchell as well as another bowling option,” Southee said. “It’s just great to have those guys, like the Australian side have the likes of Cam Green and Mitch Marsh. It helps to balance the side when you’ve got guys in the in the top seven that are able to help out with the ball as well.”

Southee said he was excited to see O’Rourke unleashed at Australia’s top order after an outstanding performance on Test debut against South Africa.

“I think what we saw in Hamilton was something special from a young guy,” Southee said. “He’s shown glimpses and there’s been something about him. We’ve obviously watched him closely over the last couple of years and he’s got a lot of attributes that we liked and we saw that in his Test debut and it’s exciting to see those guys make that transition from domestic cricket to international cricket and I’m sure he’ll have a long future at the highest level.”

There was some surprise within the Australian camp at Wagner’s retirement given his success against Australia’s new opener Steven Smith. Wagner claimed Smith five times in Test cricket at a cost of just 16 runs apiece, including four times in the most recent series the two sides played in 2019-20 with a barrage of short-pitched bowling and a heavy set leg-side field.

O’Rourke has the pace and steep bounce to cause Smith and others similar issues on the back foot but Southee said there will be no mandate for any of his newly-formed attack to follow Wagner’s methods against Australia’s best batter.

“He’s a quality player,” Southee said. “He’s obviously had a phenomenal record and now he’s moved to the top.

“But I think it comes back to the individuals that we select. Obviously, Neil was extremely good at the role that he played. And he had a great tour to Australia a few years back and a lot of success against Steve. I guess you look at the type of bowlers that we will select and the way that they like to operate and all three or four bowlers will be different in the way they operate.”

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