New Zealand head coach Gary Stead is “confident” that Kane Williamson will be available for the first Test against South Africa, starting on February 4 in Mount Maunganui. The New Zealand skipper played two T20Is in the five-match series against Pakistan before sustaining a slight hamstring strain.
"I'm confident he will be alright. He's probably got another day or two before he starts back into training and it was a minor niggle, which is a good thing. So, we didn't want to aggravate it and didn't see the point of aggravating it with the important series that are ahead. He's obviously a key player and we know that and we want to make sure we've given him every chance of being available,” said Stead.
Wicketkeeper-batter Tom Blundell is also recovering from a lower-body injury and hasn’t played any competitive cricket this year. If he isn’t fit, one of Cam Fletcher or Dane Cleaver could debut."It's something again we're discussing at the moment: what are the options if Tom is not right?
“If it's a one-off Test, do you keep it or do you skin it a little bit differently and keep the squad similar. We've got different options, but those guys are the key ones at the top of our list."
South Africa are sending a second-string squad to New Zealand due to the series clashing with the SA20. Stead, however, isn’t going to take anything lightly. "I can assure you one thing with South Africa - the team they bring here will still have experience and they will be hardened guys who have played quite a bit of first-class cricket.
"They will have a point to prove as well - 'Hey! we should be here' - and I think that makes them as dangerous as having a full side here. So, we certainly won't be taking them lightly. We have never beaten them in a Test series ever, so that's our challenge in front of us."
Keeping the T20 World Cup in mind, Trent Boult, who is now a free agent, could feature in the T20I series against Australia. Even if Boult doesn’t return, Stead feels New Zealand have enough options in their arsenal.
"I was texting with him last night actually. Trent and I are going to have a conversation this week just around the future and what that looks like for him and where it fits for us as well. We're still to have those, but we will connect this week and will work out. He could be available but I'm not 100% sure.
"I think the bowling group has been excellent throughout. When you think back to the start of the series, we had Sears in, giving him a bit more exposure at the international level and then he and Lockie have alternated.
“I think both of them bowled beautifully and right through Southee, Milne and Henry bowled excellent spells and backed up well by Mitch (Mitchell Santner) and Ish (Sodhi) as well. So, I think the bowling has been very good; they've been accurate and they've been demanding. They've put a lot of pressure on Pakistan."