Neil Wagner and Matt Henry. Photo / Photosport
The year has changed but much will remain the same when the Black Caps begin the second test against Pakistan tonight.
Coming two days after the first match ended in a draw, and being played
on the same field in the same conditions, the result is about the only alteration the tourists will seek in Karachi.
The Black Caps will likely employ similar tactics to the first test and will almost certainly stick with the majority of the team, with Neil Wagner the player under threat.
Coach Gary Stead confirmed as much before he and captain Tim Southee had examined the pitch, adjacent to the flat surface that in the first test offered little but turn.
Stead was expecting the new wicket would play similarly, meaning the spin trio of Ajaz Patel, Ish Sodhi and Michael Bracewell could look forward to another heavy workload.
Wagner, on the other hand, might have more of a watching brief. The 36-year-old was the quietest of the Black Caps’ five bowlers in the opening test, taking 1-66 in the first innings before sending down only three overs in the second.
He also has recent history at making way for Matt Henry, having done so for one test when New Zealand toured England in June. That again looms as the most likely change if the deck is indeed lacking bounce and Henry’s extra movement becomes a factor.
“I suspect it’s likely three spinners will play in this game again – I don’t see conditions changing,” Stead said. “It’s important to understand over here that the two things we take into account the most are spin and possible reverse-swing.
“Conventional swing only happens for an over or two, so then it’s about how you prepare the ball and get it ready to reverse.”
Attacks without Wagner will naturally become more prevalent as the left-armer approaches the final years of a career that has reaped 247 wickets from 60 tests. But Trent Boult opting out of his contract and Kyle Jamieson continuing to battle injury have allowed Wagner more opportunities, and Stead believes the end is hardly nigh.
“Neil’s obviously further towards the back than the start of his test career,” the coach said. “But he’s a guy that will run through brick walls for you and he’s been an important part of this bowling unit for a long time now.
“He complements the other guys with the skillset he has, and being a left-armer is that slightly different angle as well. So I still believe Neil has a lot of cricket left in him, but you’re always looking at the side and what you feel is the best mix of seamers.”
Stead even raised the possibility of Southee playing as the sole frontline seamer, although an extra batter was hardly essential for a team who last week scored 612-9.
The issue was more about the speed with which those runs were scored, given the Black Caps eventually ran out of time in the first test, but Stead expected his side’s well-tested approach would remain.
“On these wickets with little bounce in them it’s very hard to force results, so it’s about understanding how you want to play and then playing that long game.
“Having a small run chase was probably how we envisaged it happening – it’s unfortunate they had a few too many runs.”