After Pakistan the big questions still unresolved
Are you a fan of receiving perplexing puzzles for Christmas presents?
Well, here's a doozy for you – try evaluating the Black Caps on their test efforts against Pakistan. Even more mind-boggling – how are they likely to fare in the forthcoming home test series against Bangladesh and Australia?
New Zealand were unlucky not to emerge from the just-completed series with a 2-1 triumph, but it was a rollercoaster ride.
The chief concern over the Black Caps entering the three tests against the unpredictable visitors was the New Zealand top six batsmen and, five and a bit innings later, little has been achieved to allay those worries.
Skipper Daniel Vettori said the same thing following the drawn test in Napier this week. But Vettori and his fellow selectors – and most likely a new coach – will be choosing a test line-up after a domestic diet of limited-overs cricket between now and the arrival of Bangladesh at the start of February.
Peter Fulton was again tried as a middle-order option on the back of some standout domestic form. He failed and may now be consigned to the international scrapheap aged 30.
Grant Elliott further cemented his reputation as a one-day specialist and was dropped from the third test side while Daniel Flynn seems set to lose his spot to either the returning Jesse Ryder or the red-hot Neil Broom.
BJ Watling's test debut gave hope to the prospect that he has a long future as an opening bat but the jury is still out on Tim McIntosh – when the verdict should simply be guilty of not being of test standard.
And yet, there looms the possibility come early next year that concerns over the batting could be overshadowed by vast gaps in the bowling attack.
Should Shane Bond decide against yet another comeback from injury, his absence coupled with the departure of workhorse Iain O'Brien would remove the snap and crackle from the Black Caps bowling arsenal, leaving just the pop(gun) options.
That's without having to consider the ghastly thought of Vettori's shoulder not lasting the summer.
But there are some back-up options in the seam department.
Northern Knights seamer Brent Arnel has been a standout in the Plunket Shield this season and is the obvious man to replace O'Brien. He bowls at a brisk pace and constantly troubles batsmen with constent line and length and movement off the seam.
Arnel was given a New Zealand Cricket contract last season but has yet to make an international appearance.
His ND team-mate Graeme Aldridge is another who has years of experience at domestic level and could do a job at test level. But there's no heir apparent to Bond.
Pick of domestic players bidding for test selection. Batsmen: Neil Broom (Otago): 566 runs, 3 centuries, average 94.33 Jamie How (Central Districts): 395 runs, 1 century, avg 49.38 Peter Ingram (Central Districts): 530 runs, 2 centuries, avg 66.25 Craig Cumming (Otago): 381 runs, 1 century, avg 54.43 Mathew Sinclair (Central Districts): 372 runs, 1 century, avg 53.14 Bowlers: Brent Arnel (Northern Districts): 20 wickets at average of 15.00 Graeme Aldridge (Northern Districts): 20 wickets at 19.05 Hamish Bennett (Canterbury): Six wickets at 14.83