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May 22, 2013
News : Root to the rescue for Yorkshire's coffers
Features : New Zealand shaken and stirred
Blogs : The hollow feeling of a Monday morning
News : Injured Martin ruled out of tour
Series/Tournaments: New Zealand tour of England
Brendon McCullum is not the sort to shirk a challenge so when New Zealand's wicketkeeper, BJ Watling, was ruled out of the second Test at Headingley because of injury, he wasted little time in deciding to take up the gloves that he supposedly relinquished for good in Test cricket nearly three years ago.
McCullum kept for part of England's second innings at Lord's - without pads on day three - after Watling injured his left knee attempting to run out Joe Root with a dive. Watling left the field and speculation began over who would take the gloves at Headlingey.
Watling seemed to come through practise on Wednesday reasonably well to most observers, which begs the question whether New Zealand viewed his bruised knee as an injury of convenience after what McCullum himself described as their "hour of madness" - the collapse to 68 all out as England forced an abrupt victory in the opening Test at Lord's.
Watling's absence allows New Zealand to slot in Martin Guptill, who has extensive experience in English conditions with Derbyshire, as an extra batsman at No. 6, rather than as an opener in place of Peter Fulton whose tour of England has so far brought 34 runs in five knocks.
Captain, wicketkeeper and New Zealand's most pugnacious batsman: McCullum will not be short of roles when the second Test begins in Leeds on Friday. All this with a back complaint which puts him under strain whenever he returns to the keeping role.
McCullum announced that he would only keep wicket for New Zealand in limited-overs cricket after the IPL in 2010. In New Zealand's next Test against India in Ahmedabad, Gareth Hopkins deputised and in 24 subsequent Tests, the role has passed between Hopkins, Reece Young, Watling and Kruger van Wyk. Watling has been the only one to suggest he might make a long-term go of it and he can expect to return after this series.
Such heavy demands upon McCullum make it almost inevitable that Dan Vettori, a former New Zealand captain, will make his Test comeback for the first time for almost a year's absence with Achilles trouble. McCullum, an "ideas" captain, likes to keep lines of communication open with his bowlers, but he feel less need for endless dashes up and down the pitch in the middle of an over if he sees the familiar figure of Vettori fielding.
One of the New Zealand bowlers to recognise the advantage of that was Neil Wagner. He is a garrulous sort - a refreshing change in the sanitised media conferences of today - and it was all he could do to stop himself pronouncing that Vettori would definitely get the final place ahead of Doug Bracewell and an all-seam attack. These days at Headingley, the temptation to rely on pace bowling alone should be resisted because the pitches can show extremes of character and are just as likely to go flat if the clouds lift. Adil Rashid, the Yorkshire legspinner, took five wickets in the second match of the season at Headingley, so it should not automatically be assumed that a spinner has no role here.
"Brendon's back has been playing up a bit, but he is going to grit his teeth and do a job for the team, that's just the sort of guy that Brendon is," Wagner said. "There is going to be quite a bit of running up and down because he likes to talk to the bowlers about plans but having the opportunity maybe to have Dan at mid-on and mid-off and pick his brains and pass on messages will be pretty awesome.
"It's exciting seeing Dan around the changing room and training with us again. He is just one of those guys you can always rely on. He brings a good spirit into the team, and brings in humour in tough situations sometimes, but he also has such massive experience. If as a bowler you want to pick someone's brain, he is going to be the one you want to talk to."
Vettori will be a like-for-like replacement for his fellow left-arm spinner, Bruce Martin, who has left the tour because of a calf injury he picked up at Lord's. That will at least stop the England fans wondering - as they have for the past three months - why nobody is clobbering him down the ground.
Vettori, veteran of 112 Tests, bowled for half-an-hour, had a bat against some throw-downs and took some high catches on a middling Leeds morning, dry and largely overcast. Mike Hesson, New Zealand's coach, then rejected requests to speak to him, leaving the bowling coach, Shane Bond, to indicate that Vettori himself would be trusted to make the call on his fitness.
"He's the sort of guy who will know whether he can do it or not," Bond said. "He's got that experience and he knows how he's going physically. Either way I'm sure the right decision will be made."
Vettori's last Test came against West Indies in Antigua last July. After an inactive time in the IPL, even a long-haul flight from New Zealand could not disguise the feeling that he was itching to play again.
Vettori would join an attack that has come close to breaking England's batting on several occasions over the four Tests stretching back to March, something Wagner takes comfort from.
"We have come close a couple of times so it has been a bit frustrating for us as a bowling unit," he said. "At Lord's we got ourselves into a perfect position and then two guys came out with serious class and bowled unbelievably well.
"Jonny Bairstow at the moment is trying to find his feet a bit. Nick Compton played a bit of a rash shot in the first innings after showing a bit of patience. Matt Prior hasn't got a run in two innings. There is stuff we can thrive on."
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