At the start of his senior club cricket career, Ajaz Patel was a handy left-arm seamer for Suburbs New Lynn whose love for the game outweighed his threat with the ball.

His 167cm frame was never going to muster the devil Neil Wagner produced from his stocky physique or the swing and cut Trent Boult extracted from his whipping left arm.

Patel had to change if he was to advance beyond the game's suburban fringes. Chasing that dream, he switched to left-arm spin, moved to Central Districts, then into test debut headlines this week in Abu Dhabi as he delivered the final blow in New Zealand's stunning four-run victory against Pakistan.


As concerns about the All Blacks and theories about Shaun Johnson pushed pessimistic sporting buttons, Patel and his mates took New Zealand from a worse predicament and pressured Pakistan into a shuddering collapse.

Almost 50 years after Hedley Howarth played a key role in NZ's first test win against Pakistan, another left-arm spinner headlined the reversal against the same nation.

Conditions were testing for Pakistan as they chased 176 for victory on a track with turn and bounce but at 130 for three they were on the money to take the first test. Mentioning the money sadly offers thoughts about dodgy game arrangements but let's take the win at face value as measured by the agitated looks of the Pakistanis in their dressing room as Patel, Ish Sodhi and Wagner sliced through.

When Patel had his fifth second-innings wicket confirmed on review, New Zealand had their 93rd test win in a momentous debut for the spinner and new coach Gary Stead. It also created some teasing headaches for the selectors.

After Daniel Vettori retired from international cricket four years ago, the search for a regular replacement weighed all options. Mitchell Santner was the go-to, like-for-like promising young spinner the selectors invested in and looked to develop. His action had an awkward look but his batting helped his selection merits until a knee injury last summer.

Leggie Todd Astle offered similar all-round skills and a bit more experience as he stepped onto the international stage but injury ruled him out of this trip to the UAE and seasoned Auckland off-spinner Will Sommerville was picked as his replacement to help
Patel and Sodhi front the spinning choices.

Sommerville spent a decade playing grade cricket in Sydney then Sheffield Shield and narrowly missed a test call-up several years ago before he returned to New Zealand for a final shot at an international call-up. The tall 34-year-old has impressed with his all-round skills but lost out in the opening three-way ballot with Patel and Sodhi for places in the first test.

From uncertain options to replace Vettori, New Zealand has a group of spinners vying for that chance.


After the euphoria of their win, New Zealand must add starch to their batting to give their bowlers better targets in the second test in Dubai. It took some remarkable work to come away with the result defending low totals and the bowlers will be able to exert even more pressure if the batsmen front up this weekend.