The BLACKCAPS push for a spot in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship (WTC) Final comes to a climax this festive season with two Tests against Pakistan rounding out their campaign.
The first assignment for the 13-player squad is the iconic Boxing Day Test which will hosted at Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui for the first time, before the New Year’s Test at Hagley Oval in Christchurch on January 3.
Following consecutive two-nil series wins over the West Indies this month and India earlier this year, Kane Williamson’s men sit just behind India in third on the WTC points table.
A series sweep against Pakistan and a heavy defeat for India in Australia would see the BLACKCAPS well placed to return to Lord’s in London for another ICC Final.
Fresh from his 50th Test, Papamoa resident Neil Wagner said he couldn’t wait for December 26.
“It doesn’t get much bigger than a Boxing Day Test on your home ground,” the world’s third-ranked Test bowler enthused.
“The community have really got behind Bay Oval and to see a bumper crowd there on Boxing Day will be pretty special as a local player.
“The Test team have played some really good cricket of late and to have an opportunity to push for a World Test Championship Final is truly exciting.
“Pakistan are a dangerous side with class players throughout their line-up - so we know we’ll have to be at the top of our game.”
BLACKCAPS coach Gary Stead said there was understandably plenty of anticipation ahead of the series.
“There’s lots of interest - which is great for Test cricket in this country,” Stead said.
“We’ve got a very settled and experienced group of players who have done the job in our conditions for a long time – so I know they’ll just be focusing on the task at hand rather than worrying about too much down the line.
“The toughest squad selection was clearly around the spinner. That basically came down to the balance of the side and with the four-strong pace attack going so nicely, we wanted to have a spinning all-rounder as an option for that number seven position.
“It’s really unfortunate for Ajaz, who has overcome his calf-injury, but the all-round ability of Mitchell Santner is our preferred option for this series. The fact Ajaz hasn’t been able to have any game-time in the lead-up was also a concern for the selectors.
“Our rise through the Test rankings is a great achievement, but we know the challenge is now to back that up against a quality Pakistan side.
“It’s really exciting to see so much interest in the Test team and I know both games at Bay Oval and Hagley Oval will be special occasions for all involved.”
Captain Kane Williamson returns to the side after missing the second Test against West Indies in Wellington to be with his wife Sarah ahead of the birth of their first child. His inclusion means Devon Conway drops out of the squad with Will Young continuing as the batting cover.
Daryl Mitchell remains as the pace-bowling allrounder in place of Colin de Grandhomme who was last week ruled out of the series with a stress-reaction to his right ankle.
The Test squad assembles in Mount Maunganui on Wednesday ahead of the first Test starting at Bay Oval on Saturday, December 26.
BLACKCAPS TEST SQUAD
Kane Williamson (c)
BJ Watling (wk)