NZ delay Test squad to asses fitness
Wellington, New Zealand - New Zealand have delayed naming their squad for the first Test against West Indies in order to assess the fitness of key players, with a suggestion that Daniel Vettori may be in line for a quicker than expected comeback.
Vettori has impressed since returning to action after recovering from the Achilles surgery he underwent following the Champions Trophy in England.
In his one first-class match this season he took six wickets in the game and, more importantly from a fitness perspective, sent down 49 overs. He has since played four Twenty20s and is due another Plunket Shield outing next week.
Initially, Vettori had targeted a return against India in January but there is now a chance he could play his first Test since July 2012 next month although there will be understandable caution.
"It's over to Dan when he's ready," Bruce Edgar, the national selector, told Fairfax NZ. "He knows his body but we would welcome his availability sooner rather than later, of course. It depends entirely on his recovery."
But Kane Williamson's chances of recovering from his broken thumb in time to take his place at No. 3 are slim with Dean Brownlie shaping as the favourite to fill that position.
There is more promising news on Ross Taylor (knee) and Corey Anderson (rib) who are both expected to play domestic cricket next week. Williamson's likely absence, at least for the first Test, also hits New Zealand's spin bowling as his offspin has become an increasingly important tool for Brendon McCullum.
The Test squad was due to be named on November 25, but that has now been pushed to November 29 so the selectors can watch the performances in the Plunket Shield match between Northern Districts and Central Districts - where Vettori, Taylor and Anderson will be playing - plus the New Zealand XI taking on the West Indians in Christchurch, although only seven of the visitors will be in country for the warm-up match and the team will be bolstered by locals.
With only two of the domestic sides in action next week, the New Zealand XI includes a number of Test players searching for form ahead of the series, not least the captain McCullum who returned home early from the Bangladesh tour with a back problem. Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton, the opening batsmen, are also in the line-up alongside Tom Latham and Brownlie.
Although Rutherford has not passed fifty since making 171 on debut against England, in Dunedin, he is expected to keep his place at the top of the order alongside Fulton. But there could be pressure from Latham, who made his maiden international fifty in the one-day series in Sri Lanka, or Aaron Redmond, the 34-year-old, who will open the batting as a guest of the depleted West Indian side.
If Vettori was to be recalled against West Indies it would mean a demotion for Ish Sodhi, the legspinner, who made his debut in Bangladesh and became the sole frontline spinner in the second Test when Bruce Martin was dropped.
The seam-bowling positions are likely to be filled by three out of Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner and Doug Bracewell, although the latter has recently been suspended for a domestic match following a late night out.
Anderson's emergence in Bangladesh, where he scored a maiden Test hundred, provides an all-round option in the middle order although he still needs to prove he is over his injury if he is to be given the ball.