Black Caps' selection dilemma - and inconvenient fact about series decider

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 9 Jun 2021, 8:05PM
Kane Williamson (centre) with teammates during a nets session at Edgbaston. (Photo / Getty)
Kane Williamson (centre) with teammates during a nets session at Edgbaston. (Photo / Getty)

Black Caps' selection dilemma - and inconvenient fact about series decider

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 9 Jun 2021, 8:05PM

In a quirk of timing, the second test against England at Edgbaston is an afterthought dressed up as a forethought.

The match, which starts on Thursday night in Birmingham's south, is the decider for the hastily arranged two-test series but the visitors will be forgiven for having one-and-a-half eyes on the World Test Championship final against India in a week's time, while the hosts have made little secret of the fact these tests as a prelude to a tilt at the Ashes later this year.

Make of that what you will but the slightly inconvenient fact remains that there is a test and a series to be won, the latter achievement something that hasn't been achieved by New Zealand on English soil since 1999.

"It's an opportunity to win a test series in England. It's been a long time," said Trent Boult, who looks set to make his return to the team after sitting out the Lord's test in order to spend time with his family.

Boult was not expected to be available for this test either, which could have put his spot in the WTC in jeopardy, but it appears the relaxation of quarantine rules in the UK has put him ahead of schedule.

"The guys played tremendously well at Lord's," Boult said. "It was great to see some great performances and the guys gelling nicely so hopefully we have another big week."

Boult is gilding the lily somewhat.

New Zealand were better than England for the majority of the first test but Gary Stead and Kane Williamson would have been left frustrated by a dramatic middle-order collapse on day two and minimal contributions of the two allrounders Mitchell Santner and Colin de Grandhomme.

While Devon Conway and Tim Southee were superb, they were the meat in an otherwise thin broth. The Edgbaston test offers not just a chance for a rare away series win, but for several of the squad to make more substantial contributions.

Santner will be missing with a injured finger, though he was probably hanging on to his place by a thread regardless after a frutiless return at Lord's, while captain Kane Williamson is being given until the last minute to prove his fitness as he manages the elbow niggle that kept him out of the end of the home summer and the start of the IPL.

His replacement, if required, would surely be Will Young, who has already scored two first-class centuries in England this summer, but the swap for Santner is not so straightforward.

Ajaz Patel is the best spinner in the squad but his non-selection at Lord's is a strong hint that Stead and Williamson are not comfortable with the balance of the team playing a specialist tweaker who cannot really bat. If Patel gets the nod, there could be a scenario where a frontline incumbent seamer is "rested" to accommodate another allrounder.

As for Boult, he is fizzing at the bung after his break and following a summer where he wasn't as sharp with the red ball as we have come to expect.

"I'm dying to get out there," he said.

"I've a bit of practice with the Duke over the past couple of weeks and am pretty excited about hopefully moving a couple around. Edgbaston is traditionally a very good wicket so we've got to be prepared to hang in there and play the long game."

While New Zealand's concerns centre around who to leave out and who they need to find form, England's worries are more societal.

A trawl through the players social media platforms indicates English cricket has much to do to rid itself of the notion that racist attitudes are deeply embedded in the game.

Seamer Ollie Robinson, who impressed on debut, has been suspended after he posted racist and sexist tweets as a teenager, while other players have been embarrassed by their own indiscretions, including veteran James Anderson.

"I remember being that age and you do make mistakes," Anderson said. "You're very young and inexperienced. It's just a case of trying to make sure that, even at that age, we send a message that this is unacceptable language to use."

A tweet of Anderson's from 2010 in which he made offensive remarks regarding temmate Stuart Broad's haircut resurfaced this week. He said that the players would need to vet their comments with more care in the future.

"It's something we are definitely going to have to look at," Anderson said. "If there are any tweets from years ago, we do have to look at that and again learn from this and be better in the future, try and make sure we know it's unacceptable to use these sorts of phrases and language."

Boult does not believe the tweet-storm will have any effect on performance.

"I don't think they'll be too distracted ... Jimmy Anderson, 162 tests, I think he can put aside a few things on the sidelines and focus on the game."

text by Dylan Cleaver, NZ Herald