Under-strength Black Caps look to bat deep at Basin Reserve
An understrength New Zealand look set to stack their second cricket test batting lineup in Ross Taylor's absence, as they try to keep South Africa's pace attack at bay till Hamilton.
New Zealand face a mammoth task at Wellington's Basin Reserve without Taylor (torn calf) and main strike bowler Trent Boult, who was ruled out on test eve with the left hip/pelvis injury he suffered during the Dunedin draw where the hosts competed strongly.
With spinner Mitchell Santner set to be dropped and Jeetan Patel handed a coveted first home ground test at age 36, that leaves the No 8 position and seamer Matt Henry's spot up for debate.
On evidence of training New Zealand were leaning strongly towards playing Colin de Grandhomme as a No 8 and into-the-wind seamer, alongside fellow allrounder Jimmy Neesham for the first time in a test, and omitting Henry which leaves Tim Southee and Neil Wagner as the only recognised pacemen.
On a pitch that spent four days under cover till Monday night that's not as much of a gamble as it appears.
It dried appreciably under some rare Wellington sun on Wednesday and home players gave it the thumbs up, expecting a typical Basin surface good for batting and potentially quickening up as the test progresses.
Two months back, Bangladesh racked up 595-8 batting first on a soft Basin surface before New Zealand rolled them for 160 early on day five, on the way to a seven-wicket victory.
"There's a lot of discussions; you've also got to balance up your attack to take 20 wickets to win a test match," Southee said. "It's finding the perfect side that can obviously score runs but also you've got to be able to take 20 wickets."
Southee confirmed Boult's absence and a debut for Neil Broom at age 33, in the hot seat for Taylor after playing 136 first-class matches and 30 one-day internationals.
That, and Santner's likely absence are reasons for including de Grandhomme, which lengthens the batting in a spot where Patel, Southee or Wagner would be too high.
Henry took a nine-wicket bag against Wellington on the Basin last month but has a test average of 56 and the selectors have been notably reluctant to use him this season.
Hamilton's Seddon Park for the third test looms as New Zealand's favoured spin-friendly surface, so in Wellington where the pitch is the most South Africa-like the onus is on the hosts to play the long game.
New Zealand's batting was propped up by another wonderful Kane Williamson century in Dunedin, with support from Jeet Raval and BJ Watling.
Williamson could well draw level with Martin Crowe's New Zealand record of 17 centuries and beat Taylor to it, but if he misses out the onus is on Tom Latham, Broom, Henry Nicholls and Neesham to step up.
"He's been dreaming of this moment for a long time and the chance to go out there," Southee said of Broom.
"The guys back him. He's shown glimpses this summer that he's capable of performing at international level."
If the Basin has its usual bounce then Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada will be a handful, certainly testing the home batsmen out against the short ball. South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis all but confirmed an unchanged XI.
The toss-winning captain will likely want to bowl first, just on the off chance there's something in the pitch early. The fact groundsman Hagen Faith had the full covers on in bright sunshine at 4pm Wednesday suggested he wasn't worried about excess moisture.
Southee comes in fresh after being dropped to accommodate two spinners in sluggish Dunedin. Without Boult he'll carry a hefty burden as New Zealand face a rare situation of being without their strike duo for successive tests.
"As bowlers we've all played here enough to know what to expect. Hopefully the wind isn't as strong as it has been in the past. It's something you have to deal with, the wind is going to be up at some stage," Southee said.
And they need to hold their catches. Key misses from BJ Watling in the first innings off man of the match Dean Elgar, and Latham in the second innings at first slip off JP Duminy, hampered New Zealand.
"We've had to reshuffle the cordon and we've done plenty of slips catching the last couple of days. We pride ourselves on our fielding," said Southee.
AT A GLANCE
What: Second cricket test
Where: Basin Reserve, Wellington
When: 11am Thursday (day one of five)
TAB odds: South Africa $1.90, New Zealand $3.40, draw $3.75
New Zealand (likely): Tom Latham, Jeet Raval, Kane Williamson (captain), Neil Broom, Henry Nicholls, Jimmy Neesham, BJ Watling, Colin de Grandhomme, Tim Southee, Jeetan Patel, Neil Wagner.
South Africa (likely): Dean Elgar, Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel.