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Comment: Playing half-fit Southee could be suicide for New Zealand

The Roar The Roar 10/11/2015 Ronan O'Connell

Tim Southee is bowled by Mitchell Starc during day three of the first Test. © Mark Kolbe/Getty Images Tim Southee is bowled by Mitchell Starc during day three of the first Test. New Zealand do not appear to have great confidence in their back-up pacemen, with reports suggesting they are set to play swing bowler Tim Southee in the second Test despite the fact he surely won’t be close to fully fit.

The Kiwis must nail their selections if they are to bounce back in the second Test this week, starting with their misfiring attack.

While New Zealand’s batsmen, save for Kane Williamson, failed to make runs when it counted, it were their bowlers who allowed Australia to storm into a position of dominance in the first day-and-a-half at Brisbane.

The Kiwis’ desperation to remain in the series is set to see them take the huge risk of playing Southee.

Despite dire initial reports about the state of his back injury, which prevented him from bowling for a large part of the first Test, New Zealand media are reporting Southee looks likely to take the field in Perth in just three days’ time.

The fact the Kiwis would select an opening bowler who it seems cannot possibly be close to fully fit suggests a strong lack of faith in their back-up pace options.

If Southee plays and New Zealand lose the toss and have to spend four to five sessions in the field first up, such a selection could blow up in their faces and see them lose the series in straight sets.

At his best, Southee is a wonderfully skilful and crafty bowler. His late swing and the way he manipulates his delivery angles on the crease have troubled elite batsmen the world over.

But New Zealand already have one opening bowler struggling for fitness in Trent Boult, who looked restricted in the first Test as he was mauled by the Australian batsmen, conceding 2-188 at five runs per over.

Entering such a pivotal Test with both your opening bowlers in a state of questionable fitness would be a massive gamble.

New Zealand would be better off shelving Southee. They should back their reserve quicks to help them win or at least draw the Perth Test and then bring back a hopefully rested and rejuvenated Southee for the day-night match at Adelaide.

The Adelaide Test always shaped as New Zealand’s best chance of victory in this series. The Gabba and WACA reward bowlers with express pace or sharp bounce whereas Adelaide is kinder to quicks whose skills are more subtle, like Southee and Boult.

Unfortunately for New Zealand, their only bowler with intimidating pace, Adam Milne, is sidelined with injury. The Kiwis also must find a replacement for injured all-rounder Jimmy Neesham.

They should rest Southee and field four new players in a five-man attack at Perth, with only Boult remaining from the Brisbane bowling unit.

With Southee and Neesham injured, New Zealand should drop spinner Mark Craig and seamer Doug Bracewell. Granted, bringing four new bowlers into a five-man attack is a drastic move, but no more risky than playing a half-fit Southee.

Craig cannot possibly be retained after being utterly slaughtered by Australia at the Gabba. If Craig floundered at Brisbane, a pitch which offered him turn and bounce from day one, then he will be a lot more vulnerable at the WACA, which is a far less friendly venue for the slow men.

In fact, it is arguable that no pitch in world cricket is meaner to spinners, with even the legendary Shane Warne struggling there, despite flourishing at all other Australian Test venues.

It is hard to see how young spinning all-rounder Mitchell Santner could do any worse than Craig’s 3-234 at 5.4 runs per over at the Gabba. Craig actually is flattered by his figures as all three of his wickets were not earned, but rather were gifted by Australian batsmen as they sprinted to a second innings declaration.

His confidence must be hovering near zero after such a sustained flogging. Santner, at least, would harbour no mental scars and has the advantage of turning the ball away from the five right-handers in Australia’s top seven. He should replace Neesham in the all-rounder slot and bat at seven with gun wicketkeeper-batsman BJ Watling pushing up to six.

That would allow New Zealand to play four frontline quicks. Bracewell’s awful performance has flown under the radar somewhat because of the focus on Craig’s hammering and the laboured efforts of stars Boult and Southee.

But at Brisbane he looked a long, long way short of Test standard. I still can’t understand why he was picked ahead of seamer Matt Henry, who impressed in England in his only two Tests.

The main arguments for Bracewell’s selection were perplexing. Firstly, there were mentions of his superior batting, yet after 20 Tests Bracewell’s batting average is a paltry 10 with not a single half century.

Frequent references also were made to his match-winning display of 9-60 against Australia in Hobart. That was four years ago. The much more relevant fact is that in his past 11 Tests Bracewell has been abominable, taking just 18 wickets at 67.

Henry had an average speed of 131kmh in his two Tests so he won’t offer New Zealand what they badly lacked in Brisbane – unsettling pace – but he should give them more control than Bracewell.

The one Kiwi bowler who might be able to conjure up some intimidating spells in Perth is left-armer Mitchell McClenaghan. The 29-year-old has been clocked at speeds of up to 150kmh in ODIs, although it is not clear what kind of pace he could maintain over a five-day match.

McClenaghan is a wayward bowler – so much so he makes Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson look frugal. He is, however, a natural wicket taker and the Kiwis cannot afford to be toothless again at Perth.

Rounding out the attack should be swing bowler Neil Wagner. The left-armer is not quick – he operates mainly in the 130-135kmh zone – but he can move the ball late.

Granted, this would leave New Zealand with a long tail. But they do have a very strong top six and if they are to get back into this series it must be through their bowling, so the best attack should be picked regardless of batting ability.

My New Zealand team for Perth:

1. Martin Guptill

2. Tom Latham

3. Kane Williamson

4. Ross Taylor

5. Brendon McCullum

6. BJ Watling

7. Mitchell Santner

8. Neil Wagner

9. Matt Henry

10. Trent Boult

11. Mitchell McClenaghan

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