NZ call up Tickner, Fletcher for first South Africa Test; Rutherford, de Grandhomme recalled

Kane Williamson, who is yet to recover from his elbow injury, will sit out the two-match series

Blair Tickner has taken 14 wickets in four matches in the current Plunket Shield season  •  Getty Images

Blair Tickner has taken 14 wickets in four matches in the current Plunket Shield season  •  Getty Images

Cam Fletcher and Blair Tickner have earned their maiden Test call-ups, while Colin de Grandhomme and Hamish Rutherford have been recalled for New Zealand's upcoming first Test against South Africa in Christchurch.
"Cam has been excellent across the three formats for Canterbury over the past couple of seasons, producing consistent and often match-winning performances for his team," New Zealand head coach Gary Stead said. "Blair's been a consistent performer in the Plunket Shield over the past few seasons, and we felt his pace, bounce and aggression covered our bases should we lose a pace bowler to injury.
"It's pleasing to see Colin back in the Test side, having proved such an influential member before his foot injury last season. His form of late shows he's clearly benefited from simply getting back on the park consistently, and it's great to have his allround skills and experience to call on. It's a really exciting time for Hamish to be back in the Blackcaps after a long time away, and I know he's absolutely buzzing at the opportunity ahead."
Wicketkeeper-batter Fletcher, who has been called up as a cover to Tom Blundell, has been Canterbury's highest run-scorer in the ongoing Plunket Shield with 344 runs in four games. Meanwhile, Central Stags right-arm quick Tickner, who will provide back-up for the other pace bowlers, has taken 14 wickets in four matches in the current season. This is Fletcher's first international call-up, while Tickner has appeared for New Zealand in eight T20Is since his debut in 2019.
Rutherford has earned a recall to the Test side for the first time in seven years, having played his last match in 2015 - against Sri Lanka in Wellington. He has scored 371 runs in four matches for Otago this season, and was also the second-highest scorer with 588 runs in eight matches last season. The 32-year old has so far played 16 Tests after his debut in 2013, having scored 755 runs with a highest score of 171.
Allrounder de Grandhomme had missed much of last season with a foot injury. He had opted out of India Tests last year due to bubble fatigue, and had been subsequently dropped for the Tests against Bangladesh.
Regular captain Kane Williamson, who is yet to recover from his elbow injury, will sit out the two-match series, while Tom Latham will continue as captain in his absence. Trent Boult will miss the first Test as he awaits the birth of his third child, while Ajaz Patel could be added for the second Test depending on the conditions as well as his recovery from a left-calf injury.
Stead was hopeful Williamson will be ready for the white-ball series against Netherlands at home in March. Williamson last played in the first Test against India in Kanpur last November, following which the recurrence of the elbow issue ruled him out for at least another two months.
"He was desperate to be fit for the series but with the amount of loading required for Test cricket, we had to make the tough call for him to sit it out and focus on returning for the white-ball matches against Netherlands in March," Stead said. "Kane loves playing for the Blackcaps - and especially in Test cricket - so it was a particularly hard call. However, the priority has to be trying to get the injury right and having him available long term.
"It's important to remember this squad is just for the first Test so we do have flexibility to make changes as required, with the likes of Trent and Ajaz potentially available for the second. We're conscious the second Test pitch may differ from the first, so we're keen to have the option of adding Ajaz if required. He's targeting a return for the Stags in the Ford Trophy on February 20 to prove his fitness and availability."
According to an NZC release, the 15-member squad "will allow the selectors to better cover their options while mitigating the health-risk associated with bringing players into the team environment at short notice, should there be any injuries." It also stated that NZC is currently working through the Covid-19 health framework for hosting some fans at the matches at the Hagley Oval.
The first Test is scheduled to begin on February 17, with the second one to follow on February 25 at the same ground.

Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo