Concerns remain over Anderson, Neesham as recovery race heats up for Brisbane
Corey Anderson and Jimmy Neesham have cleared their first hurdle but they have a few more to jump before New Zealand cricket coach Mike Hesson's worry lines ease.
The allrounders who will compete for the No 6 spot in the first test against Australia in Brisbane on November 5 were both included in Hesson's 15-man squad on Friday, at the expense of seamer Neil Wagner.
Neither is a lock-in for the Gabba yet as they make measured recoveries from dreaded back stress fractures. Anderson hasn't played since the Lord's test in May while Neesham returned from a seven-month absence in Zimbabwe in August then suffered more soreness near the end of the Africa tour.
Eight weeks out from what Hesson described as the biggest challenge of his coaching career, winning a three-test series in Australia, he named a full-strength side with one caveat.
"There's no doubt there's some concern there. We've been very conservative how we've dealt with them, and they're both on track. We wouldn't have picked them if we didn't think they were a good chance of performing that role," Hesson said.
"There are a number of checkpoints over the next month or so that they need to pass to be able to turn up in Australia ready to go. We've got a couple of good ones that we need to keep looking after but it'd be nice to have one of them on the park in that first test."
The No 6 batsman who can bowl "aggressive overs" as a fourth seamer is vital to Hesson's team balance. The competition between the pair has been absorbing in the past two years, with Anderson's wicket-taking ability perhaps giving him an edge. If Anderson and Neesham both suffered setbacks there's a gap to the contenders, and Hesson said there were contingency plans.
Top of that list is Colin Munro who was named in the New Zealand A squad for two four-day matches against Sri Lanka A in Christchurch on October 17 and 24. His Auckland team-mate Colin de Grandhomme would be a leading contender if fit, but remains troubled by injury.
Otherwise the main talking points of Hesson's team announced at the Basin Reserve were the omissions of Wagner, Ben Wheeler and Adam Milne as he picked just four pacemen, and backup opener Hamish Rutherford's inclusion ahead of the unlucky Dean Brownlie.
With Anderson and Neesham both in the mix, four quicks Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Doug Bracewell and Matt Henry were deemed sufficient. The others will be kept up to the mark in first-class cricket back home and are a short flight away if anyone breaks down.
Fast bowler Milne, in particular, is being kept in cotton wool after his own long injury layoff before an impressive comeback in the South Africa ODIs. "We're progressing his comeback pretty methodically and he's going extremely well. Even on the recent tour he was unable to bowl two days in a row so we're trying to build him up. We've got a plan that Adam will be able to play test cricket in the future but it's a matter of not rushing him."
Wagner, 29, was the only England tourist not invited back and may now find it tough to add to his 16 test appearances with Bracewell's re-emergence and Wheeler and Milne pushing hard for the future.
Rutherford clung on to his spot in the 15 after being the backup batsman in England. He averaged 46 from six first-class innings for Derbyshire, including one century, and impressed Hesson. "We were pleased with what he did over there in terms of evolving his game, and he's the incumbent."
Brownlie was the best New Zealand batsman in Australia four years ago, and averaged 62 in Plunket Shield last summer after converting himself to open for Northern Districts.
Hesson said it was a shootout between the pair to back up openers Martin Guptill and Tom Latham, and suggested Brownlie was still adjusting to the opening position.
"It was purely a top order batting decision and we felt we had enough cover in the middle."
Luke Ronchi also provides middle order and wicketkeeping cover to BJ Watling.
The Black Caps will play a squad game with the new pink ball - to be used for the third test in Adelaide - under lights in Hamilton on October 8-9, then most will play Plunket Shield starting October 15 before flying to Australia on October 20.
AT A GLANCE
New Zealand test squad to tour Australia: Brendon McCullum (captain), Tom Latham, Martin Guptill, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, Jimmy Neesham, BJ Watling, Luke Ronchi, Mark Craig, Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Matt Henry.