Black Cap batsman and bowler Daniel Vettori. Photo by Peter
As if the challenge is not big enough already, New
Zealand will have to tackle world No 1 South Africa without its
most experienced player next month.
Former captain and allrounder Dan Vettori is out of the tour,
having failed to recover sufficiently from an Achilles injury
he picked up during the world Twenty/20 in Sri Lanka in
He had been troubled by a groin strain in the earlier West
Indies tour, which means when the South African trip ends he
will have missed New Zealand's last seven tests, in the West
Indies, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa.
The left-arm spinner had been hoping to return to action with
Northern Districts to prepare for the two-test series
starting in Cape Town on January 2, and concluding in Port
Elizabeth a week later.
However the high-profile visit by England in February-March
now looms as the 33-year-old's next international assignment.
The absence of Vettori, who has taken 359 test wickets in 111
matches and averages 30 with the bat, most likely means a
place for legspinner Todd Astle.
That might not have seemed likely a few weeks ago.
However, Astle caught the eye with an encouraging debut in
the win over Sri Lanka in Colombo last week, batting solidly
in the second innings target-setting exercise, and taking his
first test wicket, spinning the ball hard.
The New Zealand selectors, coach Mike Hesson and national
selection manager Kim Littlejohn were due to name the squads
of 15 for the three T20 matches, which start the tour, and
the two tests today.
However it is now likely to be delayed until tomorrow.
That may relate to either the Sri Lankan tour debrief, which
is known to have involved hard talking over whether Ross
Taylor should stay as captain, or be replaced, and the return
to the country of New Zealand Cricket chief executive David
White late today from International Cricket Council business
in Dubai - or both.
If two spinners are deemed necessary, Astle and offspinner
Jeetan Patel are in the front seats.
Central Districts' luckless legspinner Tarun Nethula, who
spent much of his year carrying the drinks in the West Indies
and India, is a non-starter after dislocating a shoulder last
Do the selectors retain veteran seamer Chris Martin, a solid
performer against South Africa in the past - 52 wickets in 15
tests - but who has not been wanted for the last three tests
with the younger trio of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Doug
Bracewell preferred?What of wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk, who
bagged a pair in the Colombo win?
Another South African-born player, BJ Watling, is hovering
and former Australian international Luke Ronchi has two
centuries in four games for Wellington.
The latest International Cricket Council rankings made grim
reading for New Zealand. It has dipped below Bangladesh in
ODI standings, and now sits ninth. New Zealand is eighth in
tests and T20s. South Africa is first in tests, second in
ODIs and fifth in T20s.