June 21, 2014

Steady New Zealand need minor tweaks for Barbados

They could look to pushing Watling up to No. 6, and bringing Wagner back on a track that isn't likely to offer much to spinners

New Zealand's ten-wicket Test loss to West Indies in Trinidad is their first defeat in more than a year, signalling it's no time to panic on the selection front as they seek to hold on to their sixth-placed ranking in Barbados.

They played well in patches, but were principally let down by a collapse of nine for 101 in 32 overs after choosing to bat on the first day. However, if it hadn't been for BJ Watling and Mark Craig's partnership of 99 for the ninth wicket in the second innings, the tourists would have capitulated by more than an innings. The loss is largely an opportunity for introspection rather than examining external factors such as the batting strength of Kraigg Brathwaite in his return and the rejuvenated bowling of Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach.

Drastic changes would be counter-productive, but subtle positional and personnel tweaks are worth considering heading into next week's decider at Kensington Oval.

One area to consider is whether to promote Watling to No. 6.

Captain Brendon McCullum said it best, speaking about Watling's second-innings contribution of 66 not out from that position after illness forced Hamish Rutherford down the order.

"He's fast becoming my favourite cricketer with his strength of character and fighting qualities. The guy never complains. He gets on with the job after keeping for 100-something overs [137.1 with no byes] then bats for close to seven hours [six hours 27 minutes] to try to save a Test. He's done it on numerous occasions and is becoming a strong leader in the group through his actions."

Hear, hear. Perhaps Watling should be seeing more of the innings rather than coaxing the tail from No. 7? Exposing him earlier might detract from his keeping but given he's already earned a reputation for gritting out the hours in rearguard actions, it's unlikely to taint his mindset.

Reinstating Neil Wagner could be another adjustment. The renowned toiler took 11 wickets at 24.54 in the two home Tests against India and six wickets at 10.50 from 18.1 overs in the two Jamaican XI practice matches.

Kensington Oval's recent record does not suggest it is particularly spin-friendly. Last year 14 of the 31 wickets fell to spin in West Indies' victory over Zimbabwe, but in the five previous Tests stretching to 2008 it was limited. Eight out of 35 were spin-induced in West Indies' 2012 defeat to Australia; five out of 33 in a draw with India; 14 out of 33 in the loss to South Africa; eight out of 17 in the draw with England; and ten out of 35 in another defeat to Australia.

It will depend on how this season's wicket shapes up, but those are hardly compelling statistics to go spin-heavy. That means a choice might be required between Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig.

Craig was Man-of-the-Match in Jamaica, then, in his partnership with Watling in Trinidad, he made 67 from 167 balls - the fifth-longest innings in Tests by a No. 10 in terms of deliveries faced. Sure, it's not his core role in the team but it demonstrates his tenacity.

Sodhi had the best New Zealand match figures of 4 for 117 in Trinidad but conceded more than 5.5 runs an over. Craig took none for 128 from 32 overs. Brathwaite's inclusion at the expense of Kieran Powell means the West Indies' top six is split 3-3 for left and right-handers as opposed to 4-2 in favour of lefties, which had created an extra reason to use Craig, with his stock ball spinning away from them.

Tom Latham's opening spot is secure but New Zealand must decide who should partner him, given Rutherford and Peter Fulton are both out of form. Whoever is picked probably has a last shot at Test redemption; otherwise it's back to the domestic Plunket Shield for at least a season.

Elsewhere, it would seem a knee-jerk reaction to revert to Corey Anderson as the designated allrounder for Jimmy Neesham. Neesham's superlative batting with centuries in his first two Tests before Trinidad hint he's worthy of persistence. However, his bowling offered little at Queen's Park Oval with one for 68 from 15 overs. Two wickets at 89 from 46 overs in three Tests suggest his medium pacers need to be more penetrative.

Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Michael on June 26, 2014, 4:36 GMT

    CGKK - Warner was never an opener?!?! Warner has always been an opener! His first couple of First Class matches he only played in the middle order because that's where the spot was.

  • Daniel on June 25, 2014, 22:47 GMT

    NZs best side is Lathan, Ryder (Yes Ryder, techncially sound, although bats in the middle order, can be an excellent counter attacking opener); williamson, taylor, mcullum, waitling, anderson, southee, sodhi, wagner and boult. ALso I feel for Williamson; hopefully he can change his bowling action soon and make it leagal, otherwise he is a very good offie.

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2014, 21:10 GMT

    By the way - that was sarcasm. The thing is most spinners go well in their first few games as teams try to work them out. Two games later, there's material for video research, hence Craig's returns will drop off imo.

    Sodhi's did the same, but he's young and the future of our spin attack so definitely would've kept him. Picking a tailender on his batting ability never sits well - it's a Ross Taylor move, defensive. It's like saying there's no faith in the batting unit, which is where everything hinges.

    Gotta have the faith. Rutherford for a hundy.

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2014, 21:06 GMT

    Runs from McCullum would indeed be amazing - when he gets them we go well. But while some might not be jumping on him, as McCullum fans we ALL KNOW of the people who whinge about him 24/7 365 days of the week.

    Dropping Craig after a MoM performance is fair for a number of reasons - first, he performs as he is relatively unknown. The Windes will be doing their homework, as you saw with his returns bowling in the second match. He was no longer unknown.

    Sodhi is NZ's spin future, he's got some experience and he also isn't bad at batting so I'd go him over Craig any day, and as I said, put Wagner in.

    Turns out NZC thinks EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. Weird.

  • Garry on June 25, 2014, 10:15 GMT

    Campbell Weal it's a one of game, nothing at all do do with turning Williamson into an opener, you think it is going to shatter his confidence if he fails? Heck he is practically opening as it is. Yes McCullum did score a triple and I don't think anyone is serious about dropping him and that is not going to happen anyway but he is very inconsistant to say the least. I and many others just think we NEED to accommodate Anderson and the only way we can do it is by replacing one of our woefully out of form openers, this is not the test to hope that one of them comes back into some sort of form, we need to win it at all costs!

  • chris on June 25, 2014, 9:01 GMT

    Bring back Fulton and Rutherford! That way they can collect their stamp...NEVER TO BE PICKED AGAIN. Thats rubbish about ruining someone by promoting them to open out of their normal position. Look at australia over the last 15 years. Langer, Katich, Watson and Warner were never openers to begin with but Australia picked their best eleven and fit them all in. If Neesham scores another hundred...where will that leave Anderson? On the sideline for the next 20 tests while Nz stuff around with incompetent openers.Is rutherford in the best eleven batsmen in the country right now....we all know...unfortunately the selectors dont agree. God help us if he plays and scores thirty odd....he will be in for the next year.

  • Android on June 25, 2014, 6:55 GMT

    nz can win 3rd test then they will be this playing eleven.........pls rutherford out of the squed and bring in corey anderson............I Really Like To See This Playing Eleven........bm u should open because u r not a middle order player....................So pls U Should Open................This Eleven Should Be 1.b.mac 2.latham 3.williamson 4.taylor 5.neesham 6.watling 7.anderson 8.southee 9.sodhi 10.wagner 11.boult

  • paul on June 25, 2014, 5:44 GMT

    @Campbell....yep I agree....let him score big twice and then average 10 in between the years...I am happy with that from the leader....leaders lead from the front...they win games for the team...and is that what he does?...if so I am with you.

  • Blake on June 25, 2014, 5:38 GMT

    @CampbellWeal - If we want to win this Test, and the series, we need McCullum to make some runs. We've had 30 odd runs from four innings from our captain so far. No one will ever forget his epic triple, no one is "jumping on him" but we need him to stand up if we want win this series. That's all the fans are saying. We want to win and we know that when he succeeds we have a great shot. If that isn't a positive, I don't know what is. And suggesting dropping Craig one match after a MoM performance, kind of contradicts your statement about McCullum.

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2014, 4:28 GMT

    a) anyone suggesting Williamson open, leave this thread now. You don't take your best batsman who is killing it at one position and just throw them into the opening slot as a stop gap - regardless of how early he usually heads out there.

    b) don't say McCullum needs runs. The man is fresh off New Zealand's first triple century. It's been two tests since then. He can score 10 goldens in a row and should still remain in the positives. People always forget so fast and jump on him after four subpar scores. Yawn.

    c) Probably persist with Rutherford because without him BCs are making someone open who isn't an opener. Rutherford is crispy as and always looks so elegant - just needs more confidence and patience so he doesn't chase everything with a booming cover drive.

    d) Bring Wagner in for Craig. The man brings the pain.

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