Kane Williamson's hopes of making a Test debut at his home ground have taken a nosedive after the New Zealand camp was surprised by a green pitch and wet conditions at Seddon Park. The inclusion of James Franklin in the squad is an indication that they are considering an extra seamer and the coach Mark Greatbatch said on Thursday Peter Ingram and Mathew Sinclair were competing for the No. 3 spot.
"[Daryl] Tuffey's injury and also the conditions we were expecting to face at Seddon Park; dry conditions and a dryish wicket, was one of the reasons why we started talking about Kane," Greatbatch said on Radio Sport. "We got to Hamilton yesterday and what we were expecting and what we played on earlier in the season was not what we saw yesterday. At this stage there's quite a lot of grass on the wicket.
"Ingram and Sinclair are vying for that spot at three. It's not easy at the top of the order in Test cricket and we're still looking for that solution. We need someone to stand up and actually perform. Williamson was brought in for the conditions we thought we were going to face. For his selection for this game the conditions will have to be right for him, on the dryish side, and that looks unlikely at the moment. But you never know, come Saturday."
If he was to play, Williamson would likely bat at No. 6 but it now appears that the main two battles in the squad are between Ingram and Sinclair, and between Franklin and Jeetan Patel. Should Sinclair win a place it will be his first Test in two years and he said the indications from Greatbatch had been positive.
"He's given me a quick wink and nod and said there could be a possibility you may well be playing this Test, depending on the wicket and if a batsman breaks down or whatever happens," Sinclair said. "I've had the lucky experience of playing with Mark and being coached by Mark. When he gave me a ring and said 'Skip are you keen to come back' and I said 'Absolutely mate' and away we went.
He adds that positivity to this environment that is quite encouraging. It's a feel-good thing, we're getting out there and working for each other and that's the key. When you want to beat an Australian side you all have to work together and that's something he's really trying to bring into this team and that's been great."
Sinclair spoke as if he was attending a job interview when he faced the press at Seddon Park on Thursday, defending his record and his recall at the age of 34. His relationship with the media has been rather fraught over the years, as the expectations grew following his double-century on Test debut, only for him to struggle to live up to that standard for much of the remainder of his international career.
Criticism of his lack of footwork nagged at him in his younger years but Sinclair has discovered that piling up runs in domestic cricket is the best answer and this summer has scored 778 in the Plunket Shield at 59.84. Starting a family has given him perspective on his in-and-out times in the New Zealand team, although he remains very eager to play for New Zealand.
"It's definitely motivated me in the last two years," Sinclair said of the desire to add to his 32 Test caps. "I like the setup we've got in the camp at the moment, it's got a good fresh feel about it. I guess my performances in the last two seasons have warranted me being here. That's encouraging and hopefully I can take that domestic form into this international environment.
"I put a little bit too much pressure on myself [in the past]. I've changed now; it's amazing when you start having a family, and the sleepless nights, I guess my perspective has changed from when I first started. There's a lot of things that have gone on and I want to leave that in the past. I don't like to dwell on those sort of things, I'm really enjoying my cricket at the moment and the performances have been there to warrant that. I feel like I'm in a good head space."
The New Zealanders trained in drizzly conditions in Hamilton on Thursday in the Seddon Park nets and their team balance will become clearer when the covers come off the pitch. The forecast for the next two days is fine, but whether it will dry the surface out enough for Williamson to come in to contention remains to be seen.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo