Cricket: Fit Southee welcome boost for NZ

By David Leggat

Injuries to key bowlers mean a couple of wildcards could yet enter test mix.

Tim Southee's return to action today is part of an intriguing puzzle developing ahead of New Zealand's first test against England.

That starts in Dunedin on March 6. Southee, who damaged a thumb fielding for Northern Districts against Wellington just before Christmas, returns for ND's game against Wellington on his home ground at Whangarei's Cobham Oval.

He is confident the injury has healed and, provided there are no hiccups in the next couple of weeks, he should be ready to lead New Zealand's attack in the first test.

Southee has another Plunket Shield game, against Central Districts in Nelson, starting on February 20 - the day the first test squad is due to be named - plus a couple of Ford Trophy 50-over matches to ready himself for the test.

Alternatively he could be included in the New Zealand XI to play the tourists in Queenstown from February 27 so the national team's support staff can monitor his progress.

Auckland's test veteran Chris Martin suffered a minor hamstring twinge on the final day of their draw against Wellington last Sunday. However he is included in Auckland's 12 for their match against Otago starting in Dunedin today.

Auckland coach Paul Strang is confident Martin will be ready for the test, if selected. Martin's record at Dunedin is good. In three tests, against Bangladesh, Pakistan and South Africa on University Oval, he has taken 15 wickets at 23.8 apiece.

Test incumbents Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell and Neil Wagner - who is in Otago's lineup for today - are in the frame. The first two, at least, will be in Dunedin.

There are a couple of wildcards who could yet come into the mix.

Burly left armer Mitchell McClenaghan has taken his short form chances, beginning with the tour to South Africa. His pace gives him a point of difference and he is in form and confident.

Down in Wellington, Mark Gillespie is catching eyes, too.

The stocky, bustling quick took 11 wickets in their game against Auckland last week, putting him third on aggregates with 35 wickets at 31 apiece from seven matches. His test record shows 22 wickets from five tests at 28.6 each.

Recalled last season, he took five and six wickets in innings against the South Africans in Hamilton and Wellington. He gets good batsmen out; his curse has been injuries.

Gillespie is 33 but still sharp and possessing a flinty attitude towards batsmen.

He would be an outside chance for Dunedin but if those chosen for the ANZ international series opener don't perform, the selectors would be derelict not to at least have him in mind.

- NZ Herald

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