Ajaz Patel is the only frontline spinner in New Zealand’s squad for the two-Test series against India, which begins in Wellington on Friday.
Kyle Jamieson, who was added to the Test squad in Australia last year after Lockie Ferguson’s injury, earned a call-up on the back of his displays in the ODI series against India, while the allrounder Daryl Mitchell returned to the squad for the first time since his debut against England in Hamilton in the first half of the summer.
Jamieson is expected to be the back-up quick behind the usual first-choice trio of Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner, unless New Zealand play an all-pace attack at Basin Reserve. Boult is back for the first time since suffering a broken hand during the Boxing Day Test against Australia in Melbourne.
Ferguson had marked his return from injury in the Ford Trophy, the domestic one-day competition, which his side Auckland won. However, according to Stead, his “loads aren’t anywhere near for us to be able to consider him for four-day[Test] cricket.”
Matt Henry, too, had returned from injury in the Ford Trophy and was available for Test selection, but the management picked Jamieson instead because of his propensity to generate extra bounce.
“Matt was available and it was a tough call we had to make and in this instance we’ve gone for Kyle over Matt,” New Zealand coach Gary Stead said. “And I guess in a squad when you can pick only 13, there is only room for so many and it’s a tough call because he does a lot of things really, really well for us. But, Kyle’s difference in height and what he does with the bounce is something that could be a point of difference for us in this series.”
Patel had last played Test cricket on the tour of Sri Lanka in August 2019, and after that New Zealand had largely entrusted spin duties to his fellow left-armer Mitchell Santner, with Todd Astle – who has since retired from red-ball cricket – and Will Somerville coming in for the New Year’s Test in Sydney on the back of an illness crisis within the squad.
Santner is a central member of New Zealand’s limited-overs teams, but his recent red-ball returns have been modest, with four Tests in the 2019-20 season bringing him only five wickets at an average of 83.00.
“Ajaz has done really well for us in the past in overseas conditions, but also look back to his domestic form and the way he performs here in New Zealand is very, very good,” Stead said. He’s been the top wicket-taker for the last three-four years domestically and I guess it’s a slight change in role we’re looking in terms of that position being one where we can take wickets and focus hard on that.”
Mitchell makes his comeback following an impressive bowling performance during the Indians’ warm-up match in Hamilton, where he took the wickets of Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill with deliveries that seamed in from a fullish length, before getting Rishabh Pant to nick one that nipped away from him.
“Daryl showed his batting prowess in his Test debut against England in Hamilton and he naturally offers us great versatility with the different roles he can play.”