New Zealand are in danger of being without one of their most valuable resources when the new Test summer begins in two days’ time after BJ Watling picked up a hamstring injury on Sunday. The medical staff are assessing the 35-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman and will take a final call on his availability tomorrow. In the meantime, Devon Conway has been added to the squad as batting cover as they prepare to face West Indies.
Watling would likely have been part of the XI that walked out onto Seddon Park in Hamilton if not for this mishap. Although four of his last 10 innings have brought single-digit scores, he has historically been the team’s lower-order batting leader. Last November, he came in at 127 for 4, after England had 353 on the board, and scored his maiden Test-match double-century.
“We have another injury cover here. Devon Conway is here as injury cover for BJ Watling,” head coach Gary Stead said at a press conference on Tuesday. “He has a hamstring niggle that he picked up yesterday or day before, whenever it was his last Ford Trophy match.
“He was being assessed as I walked across over here. So first time we’ve managed to get the physio in front of him. So once I hear more from that I will know but I’m guessing tomorrow we’ll make the call of whether he’s a chance or not.”
If Watling is ruled out, Tom Blundell will take the gloves, while sacrificing his position as opener and Will Young will be given a chance to play his first international match for New Zealand. The 28-year-old top-order batsman has been highly-rated prospect for a long while now and has recent form on his side, with three centuries in his last five first-class games, one of them against the West Indies A team, whose bowling attack included Alzarri Joseph and Jason Holder.
“You can correct me if I’m wrong but I think Will has scored four or five [New Zealand] A centuries now in the last couple of years,” Stead said. “Devon’s obviously done what he’s done in domestic cricket and put a lot of runs on the board as well. It’s healthy but it’s not only batting places but bowling places. We’ve all seen the emergence of Kyle Jamieson and we’ve all seen Lockie [Ferguson]’s pace and Matt Henry‘s on the sidelines as well, who I guess is sometimes a forgotten man. He’s been 12th man for New Zealand for a lot of time. It’s really healthy for us to have that competition for places and I guess if we have injuries, we have replacements that can step straight into the Test side.
“We are confident with the build-up that our guys have had with quite a bit of first-class cricket. I know some have come straight from the IPL but that was the reason for resting some of them – Trent [Boult] and Kane [Williamson] in particular – to ensure they got the red-ball readiness under their belt and freshness before the Test series”
There has been sharp focus on the World Test Championship and whether the current format is working after questions raised by the new ICC chairman Greg Barclay. Stead agreed that the system needed some tweaks but supported the idea of a working Championship.
“The advantage of having the WTC final every two years is there is something you can reset and focus towards that,” Stead said. “I know for our guys in the team here and we’re a pretty experienced team and they could think of nothing better than I guess go to Lord’s again, if it’s Lord’s, or wherever it may be in the Covid world at the moment and play in something like that.
“I think it definitely puts more context in the game. I still don’t think it’s perfect and I think Greg’s alluded to a few things around that. I would encourage the ICC to look at, I guess, having the same number of points spread over the same number of games. Perhaps if they play a five-Test series, then only the first two or the first three count towards it and I think that would add a bit more, I guess fairness across the whole thing.”
In an effort to keep the current cycle going despite the massive disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the ICC had announced that teams would now be ranked by percentage points. On that basis, New Zealand are fourth on the table and are looking to move up.
“I’ve done the calculations,” Stead said. “Things could change depending on the series and on who plays and who doesn’t. And I guess still with some uncertainty around some places in the world that you might or might not tour, there’s still some uncertainty, it’s hard to know. But I guess it’s pretty simple for us. We win four Tests and we give ourselves a good chance. We’d be at 70%. We’d still need some things to go our way but I think when you look at the likelihood of things happening I think that would give us a pretty good chance to be in the top two.”
Ishant Sharma gets stitches on bowling hand, but ‘expected to recover in time’ for England Tests
The fast bowler hurt himself while trying to stop a Ross Taylor drive on the last day of the WTC final
Sharma tried to stop a drive from Ross Taylor in what turned out to be the penultimate over of the final. He left the field with his hand bleeding, having bowled only two balls in his seventh over, with Jasprit Bumrah completing it.
“Ishant has had multiple stitches on his middle and fourth finger in his right hand. However, it is not very serious,” a BCCI official was quoted as saying by PTI. “The stitches will be off in around ten days and with six weeks left for the first Test against England, he is expected to recover in time.”
The Indian team is having a break of three weeks after the conclusion of the WTC final, which New Zealand won by eight wickets.
“The squad travelled together to London. From here they can all leave for their respective destinations within the UK for a 20-day break,” the official said.
However, once the team reassembles in London on July 14 and proceeds to Nottingham, they are unlikely to get warm-up first-class games against English county sides. They will instead play intra-squad games at the Riverside ground in Durham.
“Well, that doesn’t depend on us. We obviously wanted first-class games, which I believe have not been given to us,” Kohli had said. “I don’t know what the reasons for that are. But yeah, other than that I think our preparation time will be ample for us to be ready for the first Test.”
While it is understood that the BCCI had requested the ECB for a few practice games, the Covid-19 situation won’t allow any such plan to go ahead.
“Due to Covid-19 protocols, they will play two intra-squad four-day matches before the first Test in August,” an ECB spokesperson told PTI on Friday. Asked if there is any chance of a game against county sides, the spokesperson said, “No”.
In England, cricketers from various counties are regularly being tested for Covid-19 but are not being kept in any bubble. But the Indian team would again be in a bubble once they move to Durham.
“The domestic cricketers of England not being in a bubble is an issue for sure. That’s why the games in Durham will be intra-squad ones,” the BCCI official said.
India are currently travelling with 24 players – 20 in the official squad and four reserves – which would thus allow them to play intra-squad games.
Eng vs SL 2021 – Jos Buttler ruled out of Sri Lanka white-ball series with calf injury
Dawid Malan added to ODI squad after MRI scans reveal small calf tear
Buttler, England’s vice-captain and wicketkeeper, scored an unbeaten 68 opening the batting in the first T20I. According to the ECB, he “felt tightness and discomfort” at the end of the game and was sent for an MRI scan on Thursday morning, which revealed a small tear. He sat out the second T20I, which England won by five wickets.
England had already suggested they may use the Sri Lanka T20Is to experiment, with Jonny Bairstow moving up to open in Buttler’s absence – although he made a three-ball duck as England initially struggled in their chase of 112. Liam Livingstone, whose unbeaten 29 helped secure victory, regularly opens in T20 cricket and could also deputise.
Dawid Malan, the No. 1-ranked T20I batter, has been added to the ODI squad, with Bairstow and Sam Billings in contention to take the gloves in the 50-over format. Billings scored his maiden ODI hundred last summer and would have been vying for a middle-order berth, regardless of Buttler’s availability.
“In terms of ODIs I had a really good summer last year and averaged 83 in that format so I would be pretty disappointed if I didn’t get a gig but this team is a very hard one to get into to,” he said.
England have already secured the T20I series ahead Saturday’s third match, at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. The teams will then play three ODIs, at Chester-le-Street, The Oval and Bristol.
ENG vs SL 2nd T20I – Mickey Arthur on England and Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s head coach said he wants the batsmen to be more proactive against a world-class England attack
“Just not enough runs again,” Arthur told the BBC, when asked for his take on his side’s defeat. “We’re coming up against a really good bowling attack. They’re ranked No. 1 in the world, we’re ranked No. 9, and you can see the difference. We’ve started a journey with a young team and for us it’s about getting better, competing, learning from every game and every experience and getting better and better as we go along.
“It’s tough. We’re consistently talking about freedom, about taking the handbrake off as a batting unit. But you can only bat as well as you’re allowed to and I thought England were world-class with the lengths they hit. They put us under a lot of pressure with the bat.
“We can be more proactive and we’ve got to go back and work on that. We can walk around the crease a little bit more and try to do different things but our batters are learning all the time, particularly in these conditions. We’ve got a really exciting batting unit in our conditions but it’s about transferring those skills to conditions outside our own environment.”
“I thought we bowled really well,” he said. “Our fielding has gone up to another level. Fielding is all about attitude, it’s measurable, and I think the guys are getting better and better with that. We’re really excited with our bowling unit and we’ve got a couple of guys that are injured as well, so when we get them back we’ll be good.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
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