Injured Neesham ruled out of second Test too
Allrounder Jimmy Neesham has been ruled out of the second Test "at least" because of his rib injury that had kept him out of the Kanpur Test too, but that's not the end of New Zealand's problems. The flight supposed to carry Mark Craig's replacement, offspinner Jeetan Patel, was cancelled, and he will now arrive only after midnight of Wednesday, which gives him a little over 24 hours to acclimatise before becoming New Zealand's third spinning option. New Zealand will play three spinners unless the pitch is dramatically different from the one in Kanpur or the ones India have been using recently. The second Test starts on September 30 in Kolkata.
"Jimmy Neesham's injury will rule him out of at least this Test," coach Mike Hesson confirmed. "That takes away options in terms of changing our balance a bit. But that's okay. We are not able to get any replacement in time who is a batting allrounder. Unfortunately, we have got a few other injuries at home as well, which makes that really challenging."
Neesham, who suffered the rib injury batting in the nets in Delhi, is not the first man to be ruled out on this tour. Tim Southee injured his ankle even before the three-day warm-up game in Delhi. Craig suffered a side strain bowling in the second innings of the Kanpur Test. He came out to bat, but could not resist for long. Of the three New Zealand spinners, Craig was the closest to bowling the optimum pace on Indian pitches, and was the most accurate, especially in the first innings when New Zealand competed more on even terms.
If the Kolkata pitch is similar, New Zealand will at least get a like-for-like replacement in Patel, no matter how little acclimatised to the conditions. He is flying from England where he was the leading wicket-taker in the County Championships, with 69 scalps for Warwickshire. New Zealand also have decisions to make in the batting department. Martin Guptill came here under pressure, and with scores of 21 and 0 in Kanpur and 15 and 0 in the warm-up in Delhi, he hasn't done much to free himself of that pressure.
With Neesahm out, New Zealand have only one option left should they leave Guptill out, Henry Nicholls, the left-handed batsman who averages 27.62 from six Tests. He had scored a half-century in his last Test, against South Africa in Centurion last month. As New Zealand opted not to train on Wednesday, that decision is likely to be made only on Thursday, the day before the Test.
"We are restricted in some of our options," Hesson said. "We have got Henry Nicholls in our group. Once again he has never played in India but played really nicely in South Africa in conditions that once again are distinctly different. He is a smart lad. He spent the last week trying to keep evolving his game plan. He is an option for us. And we will look at the conditions first before making a call."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo