Plenty on the line for some New Zealand players

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 27/11/2013

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At face value, the three-day cricket match between a New Zealand XI and a West Indies XI starting at Lincoln today appears farcical but there is plenty on the line for some players.

The West Indies only have their test specialists in the country and will play just six players. New Zealanders Aaron Redmond and Jeet Raval will open the batting for the tourists' side which is filled out by Sam Wells, Ili Tugaga and Tim Johnston.

The match was shifted from Hagley to Lincoln's Bert Sutcliffe Oval and has lost its first-class status, but will still be valuable for the home side.

New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum hasn't played since leaving the ODI series against Bangladesh last month and has been recovering from a back injury.

He will lead the New Zealand XI and will no doubt be keen to spend time in the middle to play himself back into some red-ball form.

Likely test openers Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford will use the match for batting practice.

While Fulton has played in two Plunket Shield matches for Canterbury since returning from Bangladesh, Rutherford stayed with the national side and had a diet of white-ball cricket.

Fringe Black Caps Tom Latham and Dean Brownlie have a chance to improve their stock. When New Zealand played their last test in Dunedin, against England in March, Latham lost out to Rutherford in a trial match of sorts the week before in Queenstown.

With Kane Williamson in doubt for next week's first test, also in Dunedin, there is a spot at No 3 to play for, though Brownlie appears to have the inside running. The test side is named Friday morning.

For the rest of the New Zealand XI, and Kiwi members of the West Indies XI, it's a chance to show their wares as the national selectors watch.

At 27 and with just one test under his belt, Todd Astle is keen to make the most of every opportunity he gets.

The Canterbury leggie is bowling as well as he ever has, but he knows that may not be enough to force his way back into the test side. He seems to have slipped behind young Northern Districts spinner Ish Sodhi in the Black Caps selectors' thinking.

His one test, a win against Sri Lanka a year ago this week, only fuelled his motivation to play more test cricket but, in subsequent series in South Africa, New Zealand and England, the national side has needed only one spinner.

In Daniel Vettori's absence, that became Bruce Martin and now appears to be Sodhi, but Astle has worked hard on his game and it's paying dividends.

"The A tour was really good for me; I learnt a lot about what I'm doing and have made a few adjustments," he said.

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Astle is bowling "a touch" quicker than he used to, but has also improved his control, a combination which has improved both his attacking and containing skills.

Having roomed with Sodhi on the A tour, where the pair worked together, Astle has also spent plenty of time with spin-coach Paul Wiseman and said he was also seeking feedback from batsmen about how best to bowl.

While it had been disappointing to be left out of the test squad to Bangladesh, Astle was as motivated as ever to continue improving his bowling.

"The last test New Zealand won, I was a part of that and I'd love to get back there but, for now, I'm loving the Canterbury environment and just enjoying my cricket."

New Zealand XI: Brendon McCullum (c), Todd Astle, James Baker, Dean Brownlie, Mark Craig, Peter Fulton, Tom Latham, Andrew Mathieson, Hamish Rutherford, Derek de Boorder, Anurag Verma.

- Fairfax Media

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