New Zealand are in danger of being without one of their most valuable resources when the new Test summer begins in two days' time after BJ Watling picked up a hamstring injury on Sunday. The medical staff are assessing the 35-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman and will take a final call on his availability tomorrow. In the meantime, Devon Conway has been added to the squad as batting cover as they prepare to face West Indies.
Watling would likely have been part of the XI that walked out onto Seddon Park in Hamilton if not for this mishap. Although four of his last 10 innings have brought single-digit scores, he has historically been the team's lower-order batting leader. Last November, he came in at 127 for 4, after England had 353 on the board, and scored his maiden Test-match double-century.
"We have another injury cover here. Devon Conway is here as injury cover for BJ Watling," head coach Gary Stead said at a press conference on Tuesday. "He has a hamstring niggle that he picked up yesterday or day before, whenever it was his last Ford Trophy match.
"He was being assessed as I walked across over here. So first time we've managed to get the physio in front of him. So once I hear more from that I will know but I'm guessing tomorrow we'll make the call of whether he's a chance or not."
If Watling is ruled out, Tom Blundell will take the gloves, while sacrificing his position as opener and Will Young will be given a chance to play his first international match for New Zealand. The 28-year-old top-order batsman has been highly-rated prospect for a long while now and has recent form on his side, with three centuries in his last five first-class games, one of them against the West Indies A team, whose bowling attack included Alzarri Joseph and Jason Holder.
"You can correct me if I'm wrong but I think Will has scored four or five [New Zealand] A centuries now in the last couple of years," Stead said. "Devon's obviously done what he's done in domestic cricket and put a lot of runs on the board as well. It's healthy but it's not only batting places but bowling places. We've all seen the emergence of Kyle Jamieson and we've all seen Lockie [Ferguson]'s pace and Matt Henry's on the sidelines as well, who I guess is sometimes a forgotten man. He's been 12th man for New Zealand for a lot of time. It's really healthy for us to have that competition for places and I guess if we have injuries, we have replacements that can step straight into the Test side.
"We are confident with the build-up that our guys have had with quite a bit of first-class cricket. I know some have come straight from the IPL but that was the reason for resting some of them - Trent [Boult] and Kane [Williamson] in particular - to ensure they got the red-ball readiness under their belt and freshness before the Test series"
There has been sharp focus on the World Test Championship and whether the current format is working after questions raised by the new ICC chairman Greg Barclay. Stead agreed that the system needed some tweaks but supported the idea of a working Championship.
"The advantage of having the WTC final every two years is there is something you can reset and focus towards that," Stead said. "I know for our guys in the team here and we're a pretty experienced team and they could think of nothing better than I guess go to Lord's again, if it's Lord's, or wherever it may be in the Covid world at the moment and play in something like that.
"I think it definitely puts more context in the game. I still don't think it's perfect and I think Greg's alluded to a few things around that. I would encourage the ICC to look at, I guess, having the same number of points spread over the same number of games. Perhaps if they play a five-Test series, then only the first two or the first three count towards it and I think that would add a bit more, I guess fairness across the whole thing."
In an effort to keep the current cycle going despite the massive disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the ICC had announced that teams would now be ranked by percentage points. On that basis, New Zealand are fourth on the table and are looking to move up.
"I've done the calculations," Stead said. "Things could change depending on the series and on who plays and who doesn't. And I guess still with some uncertainty around some places in the world that you might or might not tour, there's still some uncertainty, it's hard to know. But I guess it's pretty simple for us. We win four Tests and we give ourselves a good chance. We'd be at 70%. We'd still need some things to go our way but I think when you look at the likelihood of things happening I think that would give us a pretty good chance to be in the top two."