Dunedin or bust for captain Brendon McCullum?
It all began for Brendon McCullum in Dunedin, and his home city could now become the scene of one of the toughest decisions of his career.
McCullum was yesterday named captain of New Zealand to face West Indies in Tuesday's first test, but doubts remain about his fitness as he battles a crippling back problem.
One source close to McCullum described his back injury as "very serious" and said the skipper remained worried about his playing future. Retirement from international cricket appears a serious option if there's any relapse.
"Next week he'll give it a go, but if it comes to a screeching halt again I think he will be making a big decision," the source said.
McCullum revealed the extent of his struggles in recent days, saying he was sick of playing cricket on heavy painkillers and didn't want to "completely break my body" by continuing. He has two protruding discs in his back and was also diagnosed with arthritis, which saw him return home early from the Bangladesh tour after aggravating the injury.
McCullum was understood to be considering retirement on his return, and was hurt by the public barbs thrown his way about returning home early. But after taking time out he was motivated to give it another crack in his 80th test at University Oval.
Having scored 85 runs at an average of 12 from his past four tests against England and Bangladesh, McCullum scored 22 and 10 against a West Indies selection in the drawn tour match at Lincoln. In yesterday's second innings he was caught playing a pull shot to fringe Wellington paceman Ili Tugaga.
McCullum's struggles may also have contributed to the decision to rush Kane Williamson back from a fractured left thumb. Williamson, just over four weeks after suffering the injury in Bangladesh, was included yesterday and rated a 95 percent chance of playing by selector Bruce Edgar.
If McCullum was sidelined and Williamson was still absent, Tim Southee or Peter Fulton would be next captaincy cabs off the rank, with Ross Taylor seemingly not an option under Mike Hesson's coaching.
Williamson will play with protection on his left thumb and won't field in his usual gully position, but will be able to bowl his offspin.
That opens the door for New Zealand to play four pacemen if the pitch appears green and seamer-friendly, meaning legspinner Ish Sodhi would miss out.
Allrounder Corey Anderson (ribs) was also included after not bowling in the Plunket Shield match in Hamilton this week. Edgar expected he would be fit to bowl if required, and will probably bat at six.
Should Williamson suffer a setback, Aaron Redmond will play his first test in five years after being recalled ahead of other contenders Dean Brownlie and Tom Latham. Sheer weight of runs saw 34-year-old Redmond jump the queue, having averaged 68 in first-class cricket this season and scored 67 at Lincoln on Thursday, after topping the Plunket Shield charts last season with 941 runs at 55.
Meanwhile, the tour match ended in a draw. Test openers Peter Fulton (53) and Hamish Rutherford (72) added 142 for the first wicket, and the tourists were 121-2 when the match was called off.
AT A GLANCE
New Zealand test squad: Brendon McCullum (captain), Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, BJ Watling, Neil Wagner, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Ish Sodhi, Aaron Redmond.
The Dominion Post