Selecting a bowling attack for a test match is a very difficult proposition. You have to balance both the various styles of bowler available, as well as select the bowlers most likely to take 20 wickets. You also have to pick bowlers who will take the new ball, as well as the old. You must be sure that you have strike bowlers, as well as workhorses who can send down endless defensive overs. The other consideration is whether to take four or five frontline bowlers into a match, with some teams preferring to let all rounders and part timers filling the 5th bowling slot.
The New Zealand test team currently has an abundance of talent in one specific area, fast bowling. When Tim Southee returns from injury, he will bring a vigour and fire to a bowling attack already well served by Boult and Bracewell. As well as those two, there are the older, more experienced quick bowlers Wagner and Martin to select from. Mitchell McClenaghan has shown that he is good enough to get results at international level in limited overs matches, and probably deserves a chance to wear whites for New Zealand. Finally, in terms of raw pace, Adam Milne could one day make an impact on test cricket.
Why then, with all those players deserving of chances, do the selectors persist in picking spinners who simply do not make the cut? Perhaps it is simply out of convention, and much of the comment about the team recently would suggest that there is a specified ‘spinners slot’. However, we simply do not have a spin bowler worthy of test cricket currently, unless the pitch is expected to play very favourably towards them.
Daniel Vettori would be a good selection were he fit, if for no other reason than his uncanny ability to salvage an innings after the top order has collapsed. As a bowler he is past his best, and no longer gets the drift and bounce that made him such a formidable spinner. It would still be handy to have him send down tight overs, though batsmen wouldn’t exactly quake in their boots when facing him.
Todd Astle is another player who could be worthwhile, provided he can maintain his batting. He is no test spinner however, and it is unlikely he will have any success on seaming wickets against England. It was fair enough for the selectors to give him a go in Sri Lanka, as pitches there tend to favour spin bowling. In New Zealand though, it would almost be cruel to throw him at the mercy of Kevin Pieterson and Ian Bell.
The rest of the potential spinners in New Zealand are all T20 specialists, bowlers who send the ball in flat and low, or try and entice the batsmen to hole out on the boundary. Nathan McCullum, Ronnie Hira and Nick Beard are all good bowlers, when their role is to contain and strangle big hitting batsmen. It would be futile to play them in tests though, as they would all be easily milked for singles. Let’s not forget that this is what the English middle order is best at, flicking it around for ones and twos, low risk cricket.
We simply do not have the personnel to justify playing a spinner. What we demonstrably do have though is a pace attack that can rival most in the world. Southee, Bracewell and Boult are all steadily improving, and have all contributed to the rare test wins New Zealand achieved in Hobart and Colombo. Each bowler has a very different style too, giving the attack the diversity that it needs. To round out the quartet, the selectors could choose any one of the other quick bowlers mentioned above, and each would bring something different and worthwhile to the lineup. It is incredibly strange that we are not playing to our strengths in test cricket, especially when our team is already so weak.
As a final thought, a pace quartet would allow for the selection of an extra batsman. Our batting is arguably the weakest in world test cricket, with even Bangladesh often showing more resolve and grit than the Black Caps. One more batsman couldn’t hurt, and could provide the bowlers with the scoreboard pressure required to take new ball wickets.