Ronchi, Craig in New Zealand Test squad
Wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi and offspinner Mark Craig will be hoping for Test debuts on New Zealand's tour of the West Indies after being named in a 15-man squad for the three-Test series in June. The unexpected call-up for Craig came after Jeetan Patel was reportedly told he was in the squad but made himself unavailable so he could focus on a full season for Warwickshire and be with his wife and baby, who are based with him in the UK.
In a statement, New Zealand Cricket said Patel was unavailable for "personal reasons", while the team will again be without Daniel Vettori, who felt his bowling loads were not yet up to the intensity of Test cricket. The selectors did not consider Jesse Ryder or Doug Bracewell, declaring that they were "yet to satisfy the selectors that they have their off-field issues under control".
There was still room for opener Peter Fulton despite his run of low scores over the home summer - after a first-innings 61 against West Indies in Dunedin he managed only 3, 6, 11, 10, 13, 5, 13 and 1 in the remaining home Tests. Tom Latham was included but coach Mike Hesson stressed it was as a batting back-up only, with Ronchi the reserve gloveman to BJ Watling.
Ronchi, who turns 33 next week, has been a regular member of New Zealand's limited-overs squads since moving from Australia and qualifying for his birth country in 2013. However, he is yet to be given a chance in Test cricket, and Hesson said Ronchi would also provide middle-order batting cover "as he's a good player of spin bowling".
The biggest surprise was the inclusion of Craig, who at 27 has played only 22 first-class matches for Otago since making his debut in February 2011. An offspinner who finished the Plunket Shield season with 22 wickets at 39.72, Craig was described by Hesson as a man who had been in the sights of the selectors for some time and whose spin "will be valuable against their left-handed heavy top-order batting line-up".
The absence of Vettori was not a great surprise given that he has not bowled a ball since returning home from a BBL stint with the Brisbane Heat. Vettori had been gradually increasing his workload and had played four Plunket Shield matches earlier in the season but he struggled with a back problem following the BBL.
New Zealand's tour begins with two tour matches in Jamaica starting late next month, followed by Tests in Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana throughout June. A pair of Twenty20 matches will follow.
"While we gained a convincing 2-0 Test series victory against the West Indies in December, they'll be a totally different proposition in their conditions," Hesson said. "They'll have the added motivation to perform well in the first match which will be Chris Gayle's 100th Test."
Test squad Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum (capt), Tom Latham, Corey Anderson, BJ Watling, Luke Ronchi, Jimmy Neesham, Mark Craig, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult, Ish Sodhi.