Thumbs up for Southee's first-class return
Black Caps pace spearhead Tim Southee is set to make his return to the bowling crease on Thursday.
Southee has been out of action since December 19 when he injured a thumb in a first-class match against Wellington.
He is poised to start for the Northern Knights in their penultimate Plunket Shield match this season in Whangarei.
The 24-year-old, who has 65 test wickets, broke his thumb and ruptured a tendon while fielding, ruling him out of the two-test series in South Africa.
Should he get through the four-day encounter against Wellington without problems, Southee will be a sitter to play for New Zealand in the first test against England in Dunedin from March 6-10.
"We've worked closely with the medical staff with the Black Caps and they've assured us that he's good to go," Knights coach Grant Bradburn told the Waikato Times following his side's six-wicket win over the Canterbury Wizards in Christchurch on Saturday.
All-rounder Corey Anderson will also bolster the Knights for the ninth round game at Cobham Oval after being out since also breaking his thumb early this year during the HRV Cup Twenty 20 competition.
"We'll put them through some intensive training on Tuesday and if they come through that we'll play them," Bradburn said.
The Knights will lose Kane Williamson and B J Watling to the national one-day side for the three-match series against the tourists which starts in Hamilton on Sunday from the team that beat Canterbury after a shaky start.
The SkyCity Knights were dismissed in their first innings for just 108, after the hosts made a mere 172 batting first on a fresh Hagley Oval wicket.
But another strong bowling performance and improved batting left the visitors needing 47 runs with six wickets in hand by the end of day two.
They rapidly reached that target on Saturday morning, with Watling ending unbeaten on 75 from 101 balls, while James Marshall was not out 36 off 54 deliveries.
The duo's unbeaten stand of 93 for the fifth wicket was easily the biggest of the third shield match in succession for the Knights that hadn't lasted three days - resulting in two wins and one defeat.
"They made what was potentially a tricky little total look easy. They batted beautifully," Bradburn said of the experienced duo.
"James Marshall took the pressure of by being nice and busy and very pro-active with his footwork. "
Bradburn praised his side's mental fortitude after a poor showing in losing to the Otago Volts in the previous round.
"The guys were disappointed with the way they played in Queenstown.
"Then to bounce back after a tough day one was very pleasing."
The defending champions now have 75 points after eight of the 10 rounds, giving them a mathematical shot at overtaking leaders the Central Stags (108 points) and Otago (95).
"It's never a position you want to be in when you're relying on other teams," said Bradburn. "But all we can do now is play some really positive cricket."