As sleet belted into the windows at Headingley, New Zealand conceded defeat on Daniel Vettori’s fitness for the second cricket test.
Captain Brendon McCullum delivered the bad news 22 hours out from the test series finale against England, meaning a recall for Doug Bracewell in a four-pronged pace attack as New Zealand go for broke at 1-0 down.
Like batsman Martin Guptill, in for the injured BJ Watling, Bracewell’s most recent test was against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in January.
All the focus of this week was on Vettori, summoned one day ahead of his scheduled arrival with the ODI squad in the wake of fellow left-arm spinner Bruce Martin’s tour-ending calf strain.
The previous night, there was a buoyant mood in the camp that the 34-year-old spin whiz would play his first test in 10 months after he trained strongly at Headingley.
But that soon changed when Vettori, McCullum and coach Mike Hesson convened before training, which for both sides was forced indoors due to the arctic blast.
With just 16 overs in two domestic one-day matches under his belt in the past eight months, due to an Achilles tendon injury, Vettori awoke and wasn’t totally confident of his fitness and feared he’d let the team down.
“It’s more the workload that he may have to carry. We couldn’t be completely certain that his body and some of his troubled areas from his recent past would not flare up again and how it would impact on the coming weeks. We went through a thorough process and gave it every opportunity and it didn’t eventuate,” McCullum said.
It means Vettori’s international comeback will now be the first ODI at Lord’s next Friday, having not played for New Zealand since the World Twenty20 in September.
For all that, Bracewell deserves his recall after impressive spells in the warmup games, taking nine wickets across three innings at Derby and Leicester.
Four pacemen is a risk, as England discovered last year in Leeds when they omitted Graeme Swann and South Africa plundered.
Headingley usually favours swing bowling, depending on overhead conditions, but this pitch appears dry and potentially spin-friendly.
Jeetan Patel, in England and fresh from a five-wicket bag for Warwickshire, was overlooked and Kane Williamson will be the solitary tweaker.
“If you look at the stats, seamers tend to go OK here and in the games I’ve played here seamers have certainly prospered,” McCullum said.
“But the wicket looked a touch dry as well underneath the initial grass covering. It’s a gamble but it’s one that when you’re 1-0 down you have to take. Hopefully we get the cloud cover and our four seamers are able to prosper.”
The biggest focus for New Zealand is their abject batting collapse for 68 at Lord’s which pricked the balloon of an intriguingly poised test match.
New Zealand have bolstered their batting with Guptill at six and McCullum shifting down a spot and taking over the gloves.
Guptill needs to hit the ground running after just two innings, worth 25 and eight at Derby, since undergoing thumb surgery in February.
“I still feel as if we’ve made significant gains as a batting group. The other day was a blemish but was it their bowling, our batting or a combination of both?,” McCullum said.
“Guys are looking at their own modes of dismissal and how England’s bowlers will attack them, there’s no blanket rule to deal with how they’re going to be confronted. It’s about making sure guys are well aware and they’ve prepared accordingly.”
England will likely field an unchanged side although Yorkshireman Tim Bresnan is challenging hard for Steven Finn’s spot.
Being the last test before the Ashes series, captain Alastair Cook fielded questions about Kevin Pietersen’s likely return and opener Nick Compton being under pressure to retain his spot for Australia.
The intrigue around England is whether James Anderson and Stuart Broad can reproduce their unplayable spells from Lord’s.
Forecasts suggest day one will be abbreviated, with more cold weather and showers expected after Leeds shivered in 8degC temperatures today. But the weekend looks much more encouraging with fine weather and 15-16degC forecast.
New Zealand: Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Dean Brownlie, Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum (captain), Tim Southee, Doug Bracewell, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult.
England: Alastair Cook (captain), Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, James Anderson, Tim Bresnan (one to be omitted).
Umpires: Steve Davis (Australia), Marais Erasmus (South Africa). Third umpire: Aleem Dar (Pakistan).
- Fairfax Media
What do you make of the recent crackdown on chucking in cricket?