OPINION: New Zealand must make one of their biggest selection gambles in recent times when the third test against India starts at the Basin Reserve on Friday.
A rehabilitated Tim Southee has been included in the 13-man squad for the must-win test and now he must play at the expense of James Franklin. Yes, a bowler for a batting all-rounder.
It might sound ludicrous to suggest lengthening New Zealand's tail on the basis of one substantial total (619-9) on a featherbed, but the third test has to be won, not to mention that fresh legs will be vital after the marathon effort of the bowlers in Napier.
Such a tactic would see the carefree Southee at No 8, followed by Jeetan Patel, Iain O'Brien and Chris Martin quite some tail. But the upside is that Brendon McCullum and Daniel Vettori are not out of place one spot up the order.
Franklin will feel hard done by after scoring a half-century in Napier but the selectors seem more influenced by how the runs are made than by how many are scored, given both Jamie How and Aaron Redmond have been dropped after knocks over 50.
Franklin's half-century was a mixed bag. He is also yet to take a wicket in two tests, though he caught the eye putting in the hard yards on the final day in Napier.
The obvious course of action is for offspinner Jeetan Patel to make way for Southee, but Patel looked more likely to get a breakthrough than Vettori in Napier and deserves another run.
Of course, plotting such a path is based on Southee having made a full technical and mental recovery from his pasting for 105 runs from 10 overs in the third one-day international against India in Christchurch on March 8. It was noticeable his action had gone to pot. He was wide on the crease, his back foot was in a bad position and limiting his greatest strength his ability to swing the ball.
The feedback is that his rehabilitation has been good. Bowling coach Vaughn Johnson has worked one-on-one with him and, according to national selection convener Glenn Turner, the 20-year-old swung the ball in the State Championship match between Northern Districts and Wellington, which ended yesterday.
This time last year Southee used swing on debut to slice the top off England's lineup in Napier and he was also among the early wickets against Australia at the Gabba in November.
As for his headspace after such a towelling by the tourists, only time will tell, but he has a farming background and does not appear a man who takes life too seriously. He has generally bowled on the big stage without batting an eyelid.
Through all this we are overlooking the inclusion also of Kyle Mills in the squad. Mills is a handful in good bowling conditions but on flat wickets he struggles to make an impression.
Basin Reserve groundsman Brett Sipthorpe is happy with the test strip. He predicts it will suit the batsmen, but a result is possible.
"Draws have been few and far between here in recent times [eight results out of the last nine tests] so there is no point doing anything different," he said. "The pitch is similar to the one we used for the England test last summer, except it will be better for batting.
"Last year the pitch never dried out so it seamed a little bit for the whole test, but this time the weather forecast is great."
There will be bounce for the bowlers prepared to work hard. Last year Stuart Broad and Jacob Oram did that with some success.
"The catch-22 with seeking bounce is you need to leave grass on and then you get seam. That can be dangerous," Sipthorpe said.
What a disappointment it will be if New Zealand wait for things to happen. Better to go down fighting than having not tried at all.
- The Dominion Post
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