The Black Caps have secured a famous away test series victory – and it could be the start of a string of test triumphs.
A superb 123-run victory over Pakistan in the third test gave the Black Caps a 2-1 series win – their first away test series victory against Pakistan since the summer of 69.
As Bryan Adams belted out, nothing can last forever, and the victory marked just the Black Caps’ 15th away test series win – the first in Asia since 1984, and just their second against a major nation since 1986.
NZ 274, 353/7 decl
PAK 348, 156-all out (56.1 Ovs)
In their first test series under coach Gary Stead, the Black Caps bounced back from a horror second test defeat – and from a dire position midway in the third – to truly trounce Pakistan on the final day, bowling them out for 156 in the fourth innings to claim victory.
It’s a significant accomplishment, given that Pakistan will be by far their toughest challenge in tests this season, but they can’t celebrate too much though – it’s a quick turnaround for the Black Caps, with the first of two tests against Sri Lanka starting on Saturday at the Basin Reserve in Wellington.
Sri Lanka are coming off a 3-0 series defeat at home to England, losing by 211 runs, 57 runs and 42 runs. This is not like the Sri Lankan teams of old – Dinesh Chandimal, Dimuth Karunaratne and Angelo Mathews are solid batsmen, but there’s not much pedigree elsewhere. A near full-strength side needed Mathews to make 128 to reach just 210-9 in a far-from-promising display against a New Zealand XI, made up of players not selected for Plunket Shield duty.
Even without the retired Rangana Herath, Sri Lanka still have some handy spinners led by veteran Dilruwan Perera, but in New Zealand’s seam-friendly conditions, their seam attack likely won’t be up to standard.
The same probably goes for Bangladesh, who the Black Caps will host for three tests in February and March.
Bangladesh absolutely dominated an admittedly poor West Indian team in two tests last month, and are probably set to be a tougher challenge than Sri Lanka. Monimul Haque has been in excellent form with the bat, but spinners took all 40 wickets in their test victories over the West Indies, and their promising array of spin options are unlikely to find as much purchase in New Zealand.
As such, it behooves the Black Caps to play on green wickets all summer, with their stellar seam attack set to be far superior to opposing seamers. However, that likely preference may result in limited involvement for the bowling stars of the third test victory over Pakistan.
Ajaz Patel (3-42) and Will Somerville (3-52) ripped through Pakistan in the fourth innings of the third test, with Patel following up his first test heroics with a fine display, while Somerville had a dream debut.
However, there will likely be only one spinning spot up for grabs for most of the summer, and the return of the former incumbents from injury – Mitchell Santner and Todd Astle – could make for some tough selections.
Can Somerville and Patel repeat their efforts in New Zealand, or did they benefit from favourable conditions in the United Arab Emirates? They should get a crack against Sri Lanka, with neither Santner or Astle likely to make their test return until Bangladesh arrive, but the handy batting and all-round talents of the injured duo will make them appealing to the selectors, while Ish Sodhi may have to serve as a short-format specialist for the home summer.
There should be no major changes in the batting lineup, despite a mixed display in the Pakistan series. The only batsman in the top six not to score a 50 in the test series was opener Jeet Raval, who despite some promising starts and a decent test average (33.86), has yet to prove that he is a stable long-term option.
Raval hasn’t notched a 50 in over a year, but his contributions – he reached 30 in every test – should see him retain his spot for the Sri Lanka series, as does the fact that there is no obvious replacement, with Hamish Rutherford the only player really knocking on the door.
The Black Caps could also look to call up a player like Will Young into the squad as batting cover. With wicketkeeping cover not as essential in squads for home test matches, Tom Blundell could make way for Young, who has made runs for New Zealand A and could benefit from some time in the Black Caps environment.