New Zealand allrounder Mitchell Santner faces up to nine months on the sidelines after the right knee problem he has carried for part of this season worsened to require surgery. It means he will miss the Test series against England, the IPL with Chennai Super Kings and his county stint with Derbyshire.
However, New Zealand were able to bring back wicketkeeper BJ Watling for the England series after a hip injury kept him out of the Tests against West Indies in December. Todd Astle, the legspinner, is the one frontline spinner included in a 12-man squad while Ross Taylor is also expected to be fit after the thigh injury which kept him out of the deciding ODI in Christchurch following his unbeaten 181 to level the series in Dunedin.
Santner produced career-best form with the bat in the one-day series but has been troubled by his knee issue for much of the season. He was forced to sit out the record-breaking T20 against Australia at Eden Park in February and scans showed a bone defect.
At times during the one-day series, especially on practice days, he has looked in discomfort but managed to play all five games – although he bowled just two overs in Wellington – and scored 216 runs including two half-centuries at No. 6, twice bettering his previous high scores. Santner had been included for the two-day pink-ball match against England in Hamilton starting on Wednesday before the seriousness of the injury became clear.
“On a personal level everyone feels for Mitchell. He’s a popular guy in the changing room and he’s well respected for the work he puts in for the side,” coach Mike Hesson said. “Mitchell is a key player in all three formats for us, so we’ll certainly miss him in the upcoming series. It’s important though that he gets this fixed and we have him back for what is a big next 18 months for us.”
In the short term, Santner’s absence will mean rejgging New Zealand’s middle order. Against West Indies earlier this season he was batting at No. 6 although Watling’s return after a hip problem offers the option of him filling that position. Colin de Grandhomme could then follow at No. 7, where he scored 185 runs in three innings in the West Indies series, including a maiden century off 71 balls. Also, though Santner’s Test record with the ball of 34 wickets at 37.05 does not leap out, his economy rate of 2.79 has offered Kane Williamson important control.
Astle’s inclusion ahead of Ish Sodhi, who impressed during the one-day series, highlights the loss of Santner’s batting and the impact on New Zealand’s balance. Astle, who has played two Tests in four years, is a far better batsman than Sodhi and could slot in at No. 8 followed by the three frontline quicks – Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner – although there remains the outside chance New Zealand could go pace-heavy for the pink-ball Test at Eden Park and include Matt Henry.
Watling’s return had been telegraphed by coach Mike Hesson earlier in the week when he said he was showing no signs of pain having regained the gloves for Northern Districts in the Plunket Shield. He was ruled out of the West Indies series due to a hip complaint that, while not stopping him batting, made wicketkeeping very painful.
His replacement, Tom Blundell, made a century on debut in Wellington but Watling is a highly-valued member of the squad and averages 38.05 from 52 Tests.
“BJ is a proven performer at Test level for us and brings a lot to the group both on and off the field,” selector Gavin Larsen said. “We’ve monitored BJ’s progress over the past few months and it’s great to see him back with the gloves for Northern Districts. Tom Blundell did a great job in BJ’s absence and we’ll keep working with him going forward.”
The rest of the squad is as expected with Jeet Ravel opening alongside Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls taking the No. 5 spot. Taylor had initially been pencilled in for the second two-day game against England at Seddon Park, but after the one-day series Hesson said he would not be risked ahead of the Test series.
The players not involved in the New Zealand XIs over the next four days in Hamilton will join a training camp in Mount Maunganui ahead of the day-night Test at Eden Park which starts on March 22.
New Zealand squad Jeet Raval, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Colin de Grandhomme, BJ Watling, Todd Astle, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Matt Henry, Trent Boult