20 Mar 2017

Daring selection needed by Black Caps

7:45 am on 20 March 2017

I've never been one to support change for change's sake, but after such a limp second test performance, some members of the New Zealand cricket team need more than a stern talking to.

Black Caps Grand Poobah Mike Hesson has a unique opportunity to do something daring while also giving his side the best chance of winning the third test (and levelling the series) and he gets to send some of his players a not-so-subtle message.

Mike Hesson

Mike Hesson Photo: Photosport

To pick some of the same shell-shocked side for the third test - starting in Hamilton on Saturday - makes little sense.

There is no need for continuity as there is no test cricket for months. In a must-win match, why not take a punt and pick the best players on form only. It sounds so obvious - like it should be done each and every time - but there's often more to it than that.

You have to think about the future and give good players time to find their feet again, but the third test against this South African side is not the time for that.

By the time he retires, Tom Latham will be remembered as one of New Zealand's best openers, but right now he's short of form and confidence. A comfortable Tom Latham wouldn't have wafted his bat half-heartedly like he did in the second innings, in Wellington. He's searching for form and that's obviously difficult to find at that level.

So why not drop him for the last test? Call it resting if you want to make everyone feel better because he'll be back by the end of the year, but the chances of him miraculously fighting his way out of this funk - during a test - aren't good. Calls for him to be dropped long-term are nothing short of stupid, but it looks as if South Africa have his number for now.

The Black Caps (New Zealand) lost to South Africa's Proteas in the second test match 19/3/17

Tom Latham could do with a breather to recover his confidence. Photo: Photosport NZ

So why not pick someone who is at least in form. Michael Papps might be a veteran, but he's coming off two hundreds and can't do any worse than Latham in this series.

Papps knows his game well, has scored 341 runs at 68.2 since the first-class season resumed after Christmas and bases his game around batting time.

Further down the order, the allrounder position seems to be going from bad to worse. Colin de Grandhomme was OK with the ball, but horrendous with the bat.

The Black Caps (New Zealand) lost to South Africa's Proteas in the second test match 19/3/17

Keshav Maharaj proved all too potent in the second test. Photo: Photosport NZ

South African spinner Keshav Maharaj made a few of the Black Caps look poor, but none poorer than de Grandhomme. He missed his second innings delivery by nearly a foot and looked so confused, Maharaj will be fast-tracked into the attack as soon as de Grandhomme comes to the middle in Hamilton.

Jimmy Neesham hasn't showed enough with bat or ball to worry the Africans so why not spell him and de Grandhomme.

In terms of replacements, again, surely you go for form.

The Black Caps (New Zealand) lost to South Africa's Proteas in the second test match 19/3/17

Jimmy Neesham seems unlikely to be giving the Proteas pause. Photo: Photosport NZ

Andrew Ellis has been one of the top batsman and top bowlers in the Plunket Shield helping Canterbury to a near unassailable lead in the domestic competition.

On form, he offers more with both bat and ball than Neesham and well more with the bat than de Grandhomme.

And with Seddon Park likely to turn, add Todd Astle in there to join Jeetan Patel.

Astle is the best batting-spinner in the country, is a wicket-taker and his legspin makes him the perfect partner for Patel and his offspin.

With him at No 8, the battling line-up looks far steadier.

Papps, Ellis and Astle aren't going to be the future of the team, but why should that trump winning the next game?

Had the current side been beaten narrowly then sure, give them a chance to redeem themselves, but Wellington's whitewash was atrocious and there will be some mental scarring.

The Black Caps (New Zealand) lost to South Africa's Proteas in the second test match 19/3/17

The drubbing in Wellington did not leave the Black Caps looking composed. Photo: Photosport NZ

Some changes limit that damage while also sending the message that being woeful doesn't go unpunished.

It's not all bad; Jeet Raval looked the most comfortable he's been despite facing his toughest test opponents so far. Kane Williamson is too good to fail twice again while poor Neil Broom got two snorters on debut and deserves another crack unless Ross Taylor is back from injury and of course, Henry Nicholls scored a gutsy hundred in difficult conditions.

While I have serious doubts about Colin Munro's defensive abilities - which despite what people say are needed in test cricket - if he's ever going to get a chance, now could be it.

Colin Munro

Could this be Colin Munro's moment to shine? Photo: Photosport NZ

His recent behaviour, however, might run him afoul of Hesson's rumoured "No Dickhead" policy. He was reported to have abused Ellis in a domestic game. It could be interesting if they were both received international re-calls.

For the balance of the side, Neil Wagner would be my unlucky player to miss out as they need to play four wicket-taking bowlers AND eight batsman if they are to beat this strong Proteas side.

New Zealand's cricketing strength has always been innovation and thinking outside of the box. This current side can compete with South Africa, but I haven't seen enough to think they can beat them.

Surely new players can't do any worse than the three day debacle in Wellington.

Matt Richens' third test side: Papps, Raval, Williamson, Taylor/Broom, Nicholls, Ellis, Watling, Astle, Southee, Patel, Boult/Wagner.

* Matt Richens has been a sports journalist for 11 years. He attributes his premature baldness to the stress of being a Black Caps fan.

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