New Zealand have named two uncapped players in their team for Saturday's deciding Test against England in Napier. The teenage fast bowler, Tim Southee, and the South Africa-born allrounder, Grant Elliott, have both been called into the side at the expense of Kyle Mills and Jacob Oram, who failed fitness tests on the eve of the game. In addition, the offspinner, Jeetan Patel, has been recalled in place of Mark Gillespie, on a flat and hard pitch that is expected to favour the batsmen.
England, by contrast, are expected to name an unchanged side, although the captain, Michael Vaughan, said that they would wait until the morning to assess the fitness of Paul Collingwood and James Anderson. Collingwood was sent for a precautionary scan on the left calf that he bruised while fielding in the slips in Wellington, while Anderson was reportedly still feeling soreness in the left ankle that he twisted while playing football on the third evening of the Test.
"The scans don't show anything serious, so hopefully he'll wake up and be fit to play," Vaughan said when asked about Collingwood's fitness. "We're just checking on Jimmy as well. He's still a little bit sore, but he's had a good bowl today and he should be fine. It's just a precautionary thing that we can't announce the side today, but I expect us to play the same team if Colly comes through."
For New Zealand, Southee's name had been in the frame ever since he was called into the squad as cover for Mills, who reported a minor tear at the top of his left calf in the aftermath of the Wellington Test. He performed impressively during the Twenty20 series against England that preceded the one-dayers, and then travelled to Malaysia for the Under-19 World Cup, where he was named Man of the Tournament for his haul of 17 wickets at 6.64, as New Zealand reached the semi-finals of the competition.
"He only got the nod at training today, so he'll be processing that now and he's got a good chance to get ready for tomorrow," said New Zealand's captain, Daniel Vettori. "He is an exciting prospect for us and we're looking forward to him starting a long career for us tomorrow. I just want him to play his natural game, because that's what I was told when I first came into the team. It helped tremendously because sometimes when you step up a level you think you have to do something different."
Vettori knows full well what it is like to be pitched into Test cricket at such a tender age. In February 1997, he became New Zealand's youngest international cricketer when he was picked to face England only days after his 18th birthday. "It all comes down to the person, age is irrelevant," he said. "Tim has played four seasons of first-class cricket, and dominated the Under-19 tournament. The logical next step is Test cricket and one-day cricket.
"The way he's bowled in the past has led us to believe he can do a job for us," Vettori said. "He swings it and he's pretty consistent, and with those two things it doesn't really matter what sort of a wicket you bowl on. He did a good job in the Twenty20s, and he's got a good head on him. He's a calm, mature guy and could be a huge asset for New Zealand cricket. He knows how to bowl a yorker on demand, and as he showed by dismissing [Kevin] Pietersen, he's not fazed at going up against the big guys. We've seen something pretty special in him."
If Southee's selection had been widely anticipated, Elliott's debut was more of a surprise, especially seeing as it came at the expense of Oram, who was arguably the pick of New Zealand's attack throughout the first two Tests. Although his batting never quite took off in the manner that it can in one-day cricket, his bowling was a revelation. With eight wickets at 14.87 and an economy rate of less than two an over, he was instrumental in strangling England's run-rate, particularly in the victory in Hamilton.
Vettori believed it was a hip injury that had ruled Oram out. "He was pretty sore during the Basin [Test], and in the second innings it got progressively got worse. He bowled quite well yesterday but he hasn't shaped up too well this morning, and he couldn't get through the warm-up drills. It was tempting to try and play him, but he's not comfortable and not moving that well, and when you've got a guy in that sort of frame of mind, it doesn't help him going into the Test."
Instead, the opportunity is there for Elliott to step into the allrounder's role, and with the tour of England looming large on the horizon, there is plenty incentive for a command performance on debut. Though he was born in Johannesburg and still speaks with a strong South African accent, Elliott emigrated to New Zealand in 2001 and has been in the selector's thoughts ever since he was named in the initial 30-man squad for ICC World Twenty20 last September. He was impressive during England's three-day warm-up in Dunedin ahead of the first Test, making a cultured 28 and taking 2 for 12 from eight overs in an Oram-esque spell of fast-medium bowling.
"It's a big ask for him to slot straight into Jacob's role, but he's a guy who's been earmarked for a while," Vettori said. "Ideally I think you'd want your best eleven on the park, and we're taking two very good players out of the side. But as the New Zealand side, we've been through a lot of injuries in the past and that's given guys chances to step up. Both [Grant] and Tim both have a chance to push for a place on the England tour, and it would be a big honour if they could step up and take it."
Vaughan was cautiously pleased about the promotions of Southee and Elliott. "They'll no doubt be very nervous but we'll certainly respect them," he said. "If there's an opportunity to get on top of any bowler, we'll try and take that. We always look to start very well and get ahead on day one, and that's exactly what we'll try and do, no matter who we're playing against. It is an opportunity for us, but New Zealand are a canny team and play good street-wise cricket. It's going to be a good Test."
Despite the injury blows, Vettori refused to accept that New Zealand were now underdogs for the deciding Test. "It's going to be like Hamilton," he said. "It'll be a five-day Test match and whoever can grab the initiative at certain stages of the game can take the advantage. I think this pitch is very similar to every wicket we've played on here. It's a good hard deck that will probably favour the batsmen, but having said that, we've seen bowlers put in performances on flat decks throughout the series. It all depends on whoever's ready to take it on tomorrow morning."
New Zealand 1 Matthew Bell, 2 Jamie How, 3 Stephen Fleming, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Mathew Sinclair, 6 Grant Elliott, 7 Brendon McCullum (wk), 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Jeetan Patel, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Chris Martin.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Michael Vaughan (capt), 3 Andrew Strauss, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Paul Collingwood, 7 Tim Ambrose (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Ryan Sidebottom, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar.