You wonder if the Black Caps' decision-making skills have fallen into a bit of a hole lately – in spite of their first innings fightback against England.
The latest odd selection choices involved Lockie Ferguson – who is not playing in the first test – and Mitchell Santner, who is. They follow the strange decisions in the final parts of the T20 series against the same opponents.
It was bad enough when Jimmy Neesham was collared in the final over, with England forcing their way into another Super Over. Tim Southee bravely put his hand up to bowl the Super Over but went for too many runs before the real gobsmacker. When the New Zealand batsmen came out for their Super Over, Tim Seifert took the strike with the much more experienced Martin Guptill a captive audience at the other end. Seifert then tried to play scoop shots to yorkers delivered by Chris Jordan – a skilled death bowler.
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No blame can be attached to Seifert – he was clearly following orders. But full tosses at the death (Neesham) and scoop shots to yorkers (Seifert)?
Southee, captain for the day, was asked why Neesham – a fine striker of the ball and with World Cup experience in the same situation – didn't partner Guptill in the Super Over. He said of Seifert (the wicketkeeper): "He was already padded up" – which must rate as one of the lamest of responses when asked about the logic of a decision.
He added: "We just felt with [Chris] Jordan being able to execute his yorkers and Tim Seifert being able to play the scoop and the shots over the keeper, that he may have been a better option with Jordan being such a good yorker bowler."
Yeah, still not getting it ... Playing a scoop shot to those deliveries is like trying to use a screwdriver to eat a bowl of jelly. Weird.
The experience didn't do Southee any good; there rose a groundswell that he should be replaced, at least for the first test, by Ferguson. The latter's 150km/hr capability meant the Blacks Caps had some cannonballs to answer England's express, Jofra Archer.
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Black Caps coach Gary Stead even referred to the ability to "fight fire with fire" – but Ferguson was omitted with Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner preferred with Santner as the spinner and Colin de Grandhomme as a medium-pace alternative.
At this stage, you have to say the Black Caps read the pitch right – it was snail slow and those best at taking the pace off the ball and wobbling it round with a bit of swing (Southee, de Grandhomme) were the pick of the bowlers. Archer also did not provide the fireworks expected.
But just a moment. The T20 result can be excused – a little – as a dress rehearsal-cum-experiment for the upcoming T20 World Cup. Stead said: "From my perspective as a coach, it's also great to see our players under pressure when we lead into a World Cup in 12 months."
Uh-huh. From my perspective, it's even better to see players under pressure – and winning. Best practice you can get.
This test series against England also has room for experimentation – like selecting Ferguson for his first test match against what is not a full strength England team, themselves re-building as they eye the inaugural ICC World Test Championship (WTC).
Weirdly, this test series is not part of the WTC so you'd think this is where New Zealand could give Ferguson prolonged exposure so the poor guy doesn't have to make his test debut against Australia, not an easy task as Martin Crowe and Sir Richard Hadlee found.
Crowe talked volubly about making his debut against Australia and how it set him back. Hadlee's test debut against the Aussies? None for 104 as Australia scored 462/8 decl and won by an innings and 25 runs.
Why not give Ferguson experience now? He could have played instead of Santner – a fine cricketer but who was not called upon until the 72nd over by captain Kane Williamson. He made no impression on the English bats – barring the red ones as they hit him to the fence. England's equivalent left-arm spinner, Jack Leach, at least got a wicket, as did skipper Joe Root with his part-time off-spin.
Santner could yet prove this assertion entirely wrong by taking wickets in England's second innings. But, while he is an automatic selection in limited-overs cricket for his ability to glue up one end, in tests he does not convince as a spinner who can run through a side; his best test bowling is 3-60 against India in Kolkata.
The point of all this is that the Black Caps do not quite seem to have their house entirely in order. Under former coach Mike Hesson, they seemed unified in thought and purpose. Under Stead, we are not quite seeing that, though clearly it's a work in progress.
Santner, for example, seems to be the "safe hands" choice of a conservative captain in Williamson, apparently reassured by Santner's batting in the lower order, with some justification.
Williamson wasn't playing when that T20 snafu took place and maybe conservatism is better than whatever that was. But you do query who is running the cutter and whether they are yet thinking straight.