Kane Williamson, the New Zealand captain, has been ruled out of the second Test against England at Edgbaston because of a persistent elbow injury.
Williamson had to miss an ODI series against Bangladesh earlier this year because of the same problem, which also caused him to miss the start of the 2021 IPL for the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Tom Latham, the regular vice-captain, will lead the team in Williamson's absence, as he did against Australia at the SCG in January 2020 and West Indies in Wellington in December.
"It's not an easy decision for Kane to have to miss a Test, but we think it's the right one," Gary Stead, New Zealand's head coach, said. "He's had an injection in his elbow to relieve the irritation he's been experiencing when he bats and a period of rest and rehabilitation will help maximise his recovery."
The injury is not expected to rule him out of the World Test Championship (WTC) final against India, which starts on June 18 at the Ageas Bowl. "The decision has been made very much with the ICC World Test Championship final at Southampton in mind and we are confident he will be ready for that match," Stead added.
"I'm sure he'll be back [for the final]," Latham said. "From our point of view, it's a precautionary thing. We'd love him to be available for this game but obviously we've got the eye on the final in a week's time, so for Kane, it's about giving himself the best opportunity to be fully fit and available for that game. The decision was made for him to rest and get that right for what we have coming up.
"He's fantastic as a captain. It's well-documented how his personality and his calm nature out in the middle has been vital to this group. He's very relaxed - doesn't get too high, doesn't get too low which I think has been great for this side in recent years. He's obviously a wonderful leader and we've seen that throughout his captaincy career."
Williamson will be replaced in the New Zealand side by Will Young, the top-order batter who won both of his Test caps to date in the home series against West Indies in December.
Young prepared for the series by playing four County Championship matches for Durham, scoring hundreds in two of his three most recent innings. He will bat at No. 3, with Latham and Devon Conway continuing to open the batting.
"He's been here a few weeks earlier [than the rest of the squad] and was playing cricket," Latham said. "He had an opportunity back in our home summer and is coming off runs for Durham which is always nice when you get selected, especially in these conditions, so it's another exciting opportunity for Will to put his hand up and try to put that performance on the board."
Latham also confirmed that Trent Boult will return to the side, with Mitchell Santner missing through injury, though he was yet to reach a final decision on the side before training on Wednesday afternoon. Ajaz Patel and the uncapped allrounder Rachin Ravindra are the two candidates to replace Santner, while Matt Henry, Doug Bracewell and Jacob Duffy will also be considered as New Zealand look to manage their seamers' workloads ahead of the WTC final.
"It's a case-by-case situation," he said. "There is an eye to what we have coming up in a week's time but on the other hand this is obviously such an important game for us. We've got training now and then we'll have a look at the wicket and have those conversations around what best suits the playing XI tomorrow. We've got a big squad to pick from."
While New Zealand's thinking has clearly been influenced by the proximity of the WTC final, Latham said that the squad were not taking the opportunity to win a series in England for the first time since 1999 for granted.
"Beating England is higher on our priority list [than the WTC final]," he said. "We've got such a great opportunity to come here and try to play our brand of cricket and put on a performance that we're proud of. Yes, there is an eye to the final in a week's time, but our focus is solely on this game and the next five days.
"To win away from home is not an easy thing around the world nowadays, and if we can put the performance on the board that we know we're capable off, fingers crossed that will give us a good chance to be successful after the five days."
Joe Root, England's captain, acknowledged that Williamson's absence was a big loss for New Zealand, but insisted that his team would be "respectful" of a side that has demonstrated its depth by qualifying for the WTC final.
"He's a big gun, No.1 in the world," Root said. "He's one of those players you spend a lot of time thinking about how you're going to keep him quiet and get rid of him early. It will be a huge loss for them but we're also very respectful that New Zealand have a strong squad and are involved in the WTC final because they have strength in depth.
"We saw last week a debutant coming in and getting a double hundred. We've got to make sure we're clear on our plans, clued up on whoever replaces him so we can find ways of keeping him quiet and dismissing him."