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Feature

New Zealand's selection question: who will open alongside Latham?

The visitors might be tempted to play Santner as an allrounder, with Ajaz and Somerville as specialist spinners

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
23-Nov-2021
Devon Conway and Tom Latham walk out to bat, India vs New Zealand, World Test Championship (WTC) final, Southampton, Day 6 - Reserve day, June 23, 2021

New Zealand will miss their first-choice opener Devon Conway due to a hand injury  •  Getty Images

New Zealand are the No. 1 Test side in the world and the World Test Champions too, but this series will be their toughest test after they lost in Australia in 2019-20. They have not won a Test in India since 1988, and their last tour of the country was a comprehensive 3-0 whitewash. They have fewer resources than the hosts, so there is little room for error in their selections, which have been hampered significantly already by injuries and fatigue-related absence.
Openers
Tom Latham will definitely open, but he will miss Devon Conway, who had made an impressive debut in England and carried a reputation for being a good player of spin. They have Tom Blundell and Will Young as possible replacements. Playing Daryl Mitchell or moving Henry Nicholls up is an outside chance. Young has played most of his first-class cricket at No. 4. Blundell has batted at 5 and 6 in domestic cricket, but in Tests, he has had to open in 12 of the 17 innings he has played. With BJ Watling finally retired, Blundell might have thought he could slot back in the middle order, but for this series at least, either he or Young will have to make the switch.
Three spinners or two?
Ajaz Patel and Will Somerville should be New Zealand's two first-choice spinners, but depending on the conditions, they might be tempted to play Mitchell Santner too. If they play Santner, he could play as the allrounder, ahead of Kyle Jamieson, or replace one of the two specialist fast bowlers, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner. This is the kind of juggling attack you will see sides having to do when they travel out of their comfort zone. They don't have any tour games to inform their decision-making process any further.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo