Leggat: Players must deliver on loyaltySave
By David Leggat
New Zealand's selectors have put a pile of faith in who they believe to be the country's best cricketers for a match which will have a large say in how this season is remembered.
Now the players must deliver.
Coach/selector Mike Hesson and national selector Gavin Larsen are banking on the players who performed creditably in the drawn first test in Dunedin against South Africa -- and for the first four tests of the home season -- writing off an awful second innings in Wellington last Saturday as a bad day at the office, for the final test at Seddon Park, starting on Saturday.
Loyalty is, in the right situation, a fine quality and that's what Hesson and Larsen have shown. They do not lightly make test changes.
Limited-overs internationals, yes. They are territory ripe for tinkering. But Hesson has repeatedly made plain tests are a serious business. Players don't get plonked in the ejector seat without good reason.
So no changes in the squad for Hamilton. Ross Taylor remains unavailable through injury but fingers are crossed Trent Boult will return to lead the bowling attack.
In the six previous tests this home season, two each against Pakistan, Bangladesh and South Africa, New Zealand have used 16 players.
That includes legspinning allrounder Todd Astle, who stepped in for the injured Mitchell Santner in the opening match against Pakistan and hasn't been sighted since; seamer Matt Henry, who turned up for the second Pakistan test for the injured Boult; veteran batsman Neil Broom, who got Taylor's spot at the Basin, and holds it for Hamilton.
Six players have played all six tests - batsmen Jeet Raval, Tom Latham, captain Kane Williamson, Henry Nicholls, wicketkeeper BJ Watling and fast bowler Neil Wagner.
While names were bandied about after Latham's latest failure on Saturday - 24 runs in three innings against South Africa, highlighted by a weakness around and just outside his off stump - he remains for Hamilton.
South Africa may view him as something of a walking wicket but his record demands some faith be placed in him. The selectors clearly don't believe there's a better option around the country.
Ditto attacking legspinner Ish Sodhi, who must have been in the reckoning for a first home test this season on his home pitch and where spin is predicted to play a significant part in the match ahead.
''We have faith in them, we think they are the best group of test cricketers in the country," Larsen said today.
Surely one of Colin de Grandhomme or Jimmy Neesham will be missing in Hamilton. De Grandhomme impressed with the ball but both failed abjectly with the bat in Wellington - 23 runs from four innings between them, and with poor shots thrown in as well.
New Zealand won their first four tests at home this season, went toe to toe against the formidable South Africans at Dunedin and were in charge at lunch on day two in Wellington. Then it all went wrong.
Now the selectors have effectively said: 'go out and rectify that'. Whether they're good enough, and have got the final-day Basin battering out of their system when Saturday rolls around remains to be seen.
Suffice to say South Africa have the bit between their teeth, are exactly where they wanted to be going into the final match of their lengthy tour.
New Zealand can be absolutely certain this will be their most daunting task of the summer.