Batsman Tom Latham and allrounder Jimmy Neesham are contenders to make their respective test debuts against India at the Basin Reserve on Friday, depending on baby arrivals and pitch conditions.
The pair are expected to be summoned to the New Zealand squad today to replace Jesse Ryder and Doug Bracewell whose night out in Auckland last week saw them scratched from the second test. New Zealand have been unchanged for three winning tests but circumstances might mean some tinkering this time.
Canterbury batsman Latham is putting the heat on opener Peter Fulton, but will join the squad primarily as cover for Ross Taylor whose wife Victoria is expecting their second child during the test. Taylor will depart at any time if he gets the call, but can only be replaced in the 11 if he leaves before the coin toss on Friday morning.
Neesham hit a blistering 147 off 135 balls in Otago's Plunket Shield loss to Central Districts in Nelson yesterday, reaffirming his all-round value to the New Zealand side. As Bracewell was, Neesham will primarily be there as injury cover but if Basin turf manager Brett Sipthorpe produces a similar green, bouncy surface to the West Indies test in December then an extra paceman is a consideration.
"We won't pick a spinner if we don't think that a spinner has got a role to play in the test. Until we see the pitch, we always have that option available to us," coach Mike Hesson said yesterday.
Legspinner Ish Sodhi only bowled three overs in New Zealand's innings and 73 run win over West Indies in December and struggled at Eden Park as Virat Kohli, in particular, attacked him. Sodhi bowled some tidy early overs in the first innings but on Sunday his figures blew out, taking 0-78 off 15 before India were dismissed for 366, giving New Zealand a memorable test win by 40 runs.
"Ish didn't bowl his best and was under a lot of pressure against guys that play spin exceptionally well.
"He started off bowling a really good length and they put pressure on that. He struggled to adjust. He's learning quick and he'll come back stronger. We've got a lot of faith in Ish."
A confident New Zealand side are in the box seat at 1-0 up in the two-test series after their gripping victory over an Indian team who fought strongly with bat and ball in the second innings.
Hesson was a huge fan of Sipthorpe's surface for the emphatic Trent Boult-inspired victory over West Indies, which began their three-test winning streak, and wants more of the same.
"The Basin has a lot of pace and carry, it's a very good cricket wicket and generally holds that pace throughout the test and certainly did against West Indies. The overcast conditions certainly assisted the ball swinging and let's hope we get something similar."
Openers Fulton and Hamish Rutherford desperately need runs after each missing out twice in Auckland, but Hesson said they were safe for now.
"The top order didn't have a great game but they contributed in other ways. Just the little things that guys do to make up a team is important. We're certainly hopeful and confident that our top order will front up."
Hesson hailed Neil Wagner (8-126) for his match-turning spell with the old ball on Sunday, particularly his snorter to remove Indian centurymaker Shikhar Dhawan. Another quiet achiever, gloveman BJ Watling, snared a New Zealand record nine catches in the match including six in the second innings.
Hesson said his tight-knit group were sky high on confidence.
"Throughout those three tests we were in tough situations and we got the worst end of the conditions in all three. Character is a term that's over used but within this group we've got a lot of guys that fight for each other and really trust each other and understand their roles.
"We're not a side of superstars but we've got a lot of ability in the squad and thankfully when we're under the pump guys stand up and that's what you want to see."
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