All-round problem for Black Caps as Neesham, de Grandhomme both under selectors' microscope for third test after batting woes
Both all-rounders Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme could be on shaky ground this week as New Zealand try to conjure an XI to somehow take South Africa to the wire in Hamilton.
Selector Gavin Larsen confirmed an unchanged 14-man squad for the third cricket test, starting at Seddon Park on Saturday, as they search for answers after a meek eight-wicket defeat in Wellington.
There was good news and bad news on the injury front, too, with key batsman Ross Taylor's season officially over with a torn calf but main strike bowler Trent Boult rated a strong chance of returning from a hip/groin injury.
"He's a work in progress and we're confident we can get Boulty onto the park for day one," Larsen said. "He had a bowl yesterday and I understand he came through that well. He's being monitored very closely and will be a day by day proposition."
Which is encouraging for New Zealand's chances of taking 20 wickets, and levelling the series 1-1, but still leaves questions around the bowling mix and how they'll score enough runs without Taylor when they posted 439 across two innings at the Basin Reserve.
Spin looks certain to play a role in Hamilton, with the strong likelihood Mitchell Santner will return to partner Jeetan Patel as in the drawn first test in Dunedin.
Legspinner Ish Sodhi was considered, on a ground he's excelled, but surprisingly wasn't thrown into the mix. "We believe we've got the best spinners at the moment in that group," Larsen said.
That means Neesham and de Grandhomme could potentially both be dropped from the XI who bumbled their way through Saturday, losing six wickets to Keshav Maharaj's spin on a pace bowler's pitch.
Neither allrounder covered themselves in glory with the bat when they were included to bolster the order in Taylor's absence. Neesham (15 and 4) stretched out of his crease in the first innings then played an awfully loose shot, while de Grandhomme (4 and 0) charged down the pitch first up then was beaten a very long way by one that straightened from Maharaj.
"It's one of the elephants in the room. They'll be the first to admit their run output hasn't been good enough," Larsen said.
"I thought Colin bowled extremely well at the Basin, the pick of the bowlers for me. The flipside of that is down at No 8, and one of the reasons you play a couple of allrounders, is to stiffen up the batting. It didn't quite transpire that way. There's work to do and we must get greater run production through that area."
Former skipper Brendon McCullum certainly believes both allrounders should go, pushing Santner up to six and playing both spinners and frontline quicks Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner, in his test XI he picked on Twitter. "Horses for courses. Need 20 wickets," he wrote.
The biggest worry for coach Mike Hesson is that shortens up the batting which is the main area of concern, after they lost 12 wickets to spin in Wellington where it wasn't turning. It would mean either Southee or Patel at eight which seems dangerously high.
Santner averages 25 in test cricket, scored an interminable four at No 8 in Dunedin but has his two highest test scores in the past six months: 71 in Kanpur in September and 73 against Bangladesh in Wellington in January.
Larsen said several options would be explored once they saw the pitch. "We think we've got the best group of test cricketers in the country.
"History would suggest, this season in particular, that it has turned up there. We haven't ordered the pitch to turn, it's just the reality and that's the way it's been panning out and we've picked our team accordingly, similar to Dunedin."
The other option would be to drop Southee, as they did in Dunedin, or Wagner after he wasn't at his best in Wellington, and play two frontline quicks with Neesham as fifth bowler. Neesham has two wickets in the series at 61.5, off 28.3 overs, and still doesn't appear to have the full faith of skipper Kane Williamson.
New Zealand third test squad: Kane Williamson (captain), Tom Latham, Jeet Raval, Neil Broom, Henry Nicholls, Jimmy Neesham, BJ Watling, Mitchell Santner, Colin de Grandhomme, Tim Southee, Jeetan Patel, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult, Matt Henry.