Already shorn of their best batsman, New Zealand will face the might of South Africa in next month's test series without their standout bowler and probable vice-captain.
Tim Southee was last night ruled out of the two-test series, starting in Cape Town on January 2, after scans revealed he'd ruptured a ligament in his left thumb while diving in the field at Karori Park on Wednesday. Former skipper Ross Taylor is sitting out the tour in the wake of the captaincy fiasco.
Southee will undergo surgery and be sidelined for 6-8 weeks, meaning he'll be touch and go for the England tour opener, a Twenty20 international in Auckland on February 9.
The 24-year-old continued on after suffering the injury while playing for Northern Districts against Wellington, but scans revealed it was more serious than first thought.
"He landed heavily on his thumb while fielding, with scans indicating the ligament has fully ruptured and retracted," New Zealand team physiotherapist Paul Close said.
"After consultation with NZC medical staff and a hand specialist it was decided the best course of action is for him to have surgery.
"He will commence rehabilitation immediately following the procedure, with a view to him returning to cricket during the home summer. The procedure is likely to keep him out of the game for 6-8 weeks."
A decision on Southee's replacement was yet to be made last night, but the injury may mean a reprieve in the playing 11 for veteran Chris Martin who was sidelined on the India and Sri Lanka tours by the in-form new ball duo of Southee and Trent Boult. Left-armer Neil Wagner is also part of the test squad and will vie with Martin for Southee's spot.
Southee is due to become a father today or tomorrow and was already missing the three-match T20 series to be present at the birth.
He looked likely to be new captain Brendon McCullum's deputy in the two tests, with rumblings getting louder that he was McCullum's preferred vice-captain ahead of Kane Williamson. Nothing had been publicly confirmed.
After being dropped during the South Africa test series in March, Southee struck a purple patch of form starting in India in August. Extra pace and consistent late outswing were his main weapons.
In his last three tests, on the subcontinent, he took 20 wickets at 14.90, including 8-120 in New Zealand's 167-run win over Sri Lanka in Colombo last month. This week at Karori Park he blazed 156 off 130 balls - his maiden first-class century - then took 5-69 in Wellington's first innings to inspire an ND victory by six wickets.
New Zealand's tour opens early tomorrow (5am NZT) with the first T20 international in Durban.
- The Dominion Post