The competition to be New Zealand's next test wicketkeeper has been narrowed to two after incumbent Reece Young was dropped from the team to face Zimbabwe later this month.
BJ Watling and uncapped Kruger van Wyk will duke it out to take the gloves, with the pair today named in both the Black Caps 12-man squad and the New Zealand XI to take on Zimbabwe in a three-day match before the test. Watling appears to be the early favourite after coach John Wright confirmed he will be behind the stumps for the warm-up game.
"BJ will get a chance to prove himself with the gloves in the three-day game and Kruger will open the batting,'' Wright said. "A decision on who will take the gloves in the test will be made closer to the start of the match.''
Watling, 26, had been tipped as a contender to replace the much-maligned Young after he kept wicket for Northern Districts in their last two domestic Twenty20 matches, despite regular Knights keeper Pete McGlashan being fit and in the side.
The Knights denied they had received a request from the top to make the change, but the timing seemed all too convenient. Watling was a wicketkeeper through high school and age group cricket but found his spot behind the stumps blocked by McGlashan at provincial level. He has still played in six tests as a specialist batsman, averaging 24.5 as an opener.
Now he looks set to pick up the gloves and drop down the order, as the national side searches for the right balance in their line-up. But he will face a fight from van Wyk, as the Central Districts gloveman possesses a superior first class batting record.
The 32-year-old has scored more than 4000 runs in first class cricket at an average of 38.66 - five runs higher than Watling's average. The South African expat has been eligible for New Zealand selection for some time but this is the first occasion he has been included in an international squad.
He and Watling now have the opportunity to cement themselves in the Black Caps' test team, thanks to some indifferent recent form from Young. In last month's two test tour of Australia, Young managed scores of 0, 9, 2 and 11 not out, providing a chance for New Zealand's domestic wicketkeepers to steal his spot.
Wright admitted Young may feel hard done by and he didn't rule out a return to the national side for the Aucklander in the near future.
"There's a lot of competition for the wicketkeeping spot in the country at the moment,'' Wright said. "It's tough on Reece, his keeping has been good and he knows that if he goes back to domestic cricket and scores runs he will remain in the frame.''
Aside from van Wyk's inclusion and the injured Jesse Ryder's omission, the rest of the test squad is unchanged from the team which beat Australia in Hobart, though another player is likely to be added before the match in Napier.
The New Zealand XI side features a couple of interesting additions who may be given the chance to press their case for test selection. Central Stags' spinner Tarun Nethula will be able to cement his spot as Dan Vettori's back up, while Neil Wagner has been picked with an eye on the future as he becomes eligible for New Zealand in March.
There is yet another Bracewell, with 20-year-old top order batsman Michael - cousin of Doug - being selected despite playing just six first class matches for Otago. His domestic teammate Sam Wells, a middle-order bat who averages 38 from 21 first class matches, is another given a maiden opportunity for higher honours.
The three-day warm-up match begins in Gisborne on January 21, with the test getting under way in Napier on January 26.
Black Caps squad:
Ross Taylor (c), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Dean Brownlie, Martin Guptill, Chris Martin, Brendon McCullum, Tim Southee, Daniel Vettori, Kruger van Wyk, BJ Watling, Kane Williamson
New Zealand XI side:
Ross Taylor (c), Brent Arnel, Michael Bracewell, Chris Martin, Andy McKay,Tarun Nethula, Kruger van Wyk, Daniel Vettori, Neil Wagner, Sam Wells, BJ Watling, Kane Williamson