Thumbs up for Williamson's return to test team
The healing powers of key batsman Kane Williamson are set to provide New Zealand's wounded test lineup with a welcome boost today.
The No 3 is expected to be named in the New Zealand squad of 13 this morning to face West Indies, just over four weeks after suffering a fracture of his left thumb while fielding in an ODI in Dhaka.
The prognosis was initially six weeks on the sidelines and New Zealand Cricket medical staff were pessimistic about their most in-form batsman making the start line at University Oval for the first test on Tuesday.
But in recent days Williamson toiled hard in the nets at Seddon Park with his thumb bandaged, and is understood to be fine to bat and bowl his offspin. Fielding in his regular gully position is the big worry, and may require him being pushed from the cordon to protect the thumb.
He's still no certainty to take the field in Dunedin, but coach Mike Hesson will give him every possible chance of playing his 28th test.
The captain-in-waiting's presence is much needed as the batting anchor - he scored 114, 74 and 62 in his three test innings to lead the way in Bangladesh. And in Daniel Vettori's absence his spin is crucial to team balance if University Oval looks grassy and seam-friendly, which it needs to be against a West Indies side with their ODI stars coming in cold, literally, from India.
It would allow New Zealand to play four pacemen, as they did at Headingley in May, and keep promising legspinner Ish Sodhi on ice for Wellington or Hamilton.
In a reasonably predictable New Zealand squad, the only head-scratcher was batting backup at No 3, should Williamson not make it. The selectors were still mulling it over last night.
Dean Brownlie was the favourite after being shifted to three by Canterbury, but scored just 107 runs in four first-class innings, then six at Lincoln on Wednesday before being trapped in front by fringe West Indies paceman Shannon Gabriel.
His final chance to impress the selectors yesterday was stymied by Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton's century stand in the Lincoln warmup game.
Tom Latham is always thereabouts but hasn't demanded selection with big first-class scores, while Otago's Aaron Redmond certainly has.
The 34-year-old hasn't played a test in five years but on weight of runs puts a compelling case, the most recent innings 67 at Lincoln yesterday.
In four first-class knocks for Otago this season, Redmond scored 271 runs at an average of 68, and last season was the leading Plunket Shield runscorer last season with 941 at 55. Local knowledge wouldn't harm his cause either.
Martin Guptill will probably be kept on ice for the limited overs series, starting on Boxing Day, after finger and ankle injuries.
Otherwise the medical staff, rather than the selectors, faced the hardest task.
Williamson, Brendon McCullum (back), Ross Taylor (knee), Corey Anderson (ribs) and Tim Southee (ankle) were all under varying clouds but are expected to be named. Anderson didn't bowl in this week's Plunket Shield match in Hamilton and could play as a batsman only if New Zealand went with four quicks.
McCullum remains the biggest worry, with two bulging discs and arthritis in his back which he said this week is causing him continued pain and increasing doubts as to whether he can play a full part in the home summer.