Wellington offspinner Jeetan Patel sensationally withdrew from the New Zealand Test squad to tour West Indies last night as he was poised to end a 16-month absence from international cricket.
Patel was contacted by national selector Bruce Edgar in England, where he is beginning another county stint with Warwickshire, to tell him the good news he’d been picked in the 15-man squad for three Tests in June.
But Patel made himself unavailable, saying he wanted to focus on a full season with Warwickshire, for whom he was player of the year in 2013, and be with his wife and baby daughter who are based with him in the UK.
He stressed he hadn’t retired from international cricket.
It left Edgar and coach Mike Hesson a tough decision to pick a second spinner to partner Ish Sodhi in what is expected to be spin-friendly conditions in the Caribbean in June. Canterbury legspinner Todd Astle appeared next cab off the rank but nothing had been finalised last night.
Other likely features of the squad to be named in Christchurch today include a reprieve for openers Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford who are expected to be pitted in a three-way scrap with Tom Latham, and a possible callup for Wellington gloveman Luke Ronchi as backup wicketkeeper/batsman.
Spin was a strong focus for the selectors, with a mandatory two specialist spinners and batsmen best equipped to counter the dual threat of mystery offspinners Sunil Narine and Shane Shillingford.
Patel’s 19-Test career (52 wickets at an average of 48) looked to be floundering after his last series in South Africa in January 2013.
But the 33-year-old’s county form for Warwickshire on turning pitches was compelling (51 wickets at 23 in 2012, 52 wickets at 30 last year), and he was excellent in recent weeks for Wellington’s title-winning one-day side before returning to England.
A potential West Indies batting lineup featuring four left-handers – Chris Gayle, Darren Bravo, Kieran Powell and Shivnarine Chanderpaul – appeared to help Patel’s cause and count against Astle.
He was second on the Plunket Shield charts with 37 wickets at 30, and offers more with the bat, but two legspinners is a risk.
Left-armer Bruce Martin is contracted to NZC but hasn’t bounced back from being dropped in Bangladesh last October, and no other spinners demanded selection.
Plunket Shield run machine Latham appears a certainty for one opening slot in the first test at Kingston on June 8, with Rutherford and Fulton contesting the other berth in two warmup games in Kingston.
Both can count themselves fortunate after lean home summers, with Rutherford probably having his nose in front.
Ronchi, who is uncapped at Test level, provides genuine wicketkeeping backup to BJ Watling and middle order batting cover.
Hesson said last week promising paceman Matt Henry (side strain) wouldn’t be considered, and it seems there aren’t enough spots to fit in a final paceman, with Mark Gillespie and Hamish Bennett both on the cusp.
Allrounders Corey Anderson and Jimmy Neesham give Hesson options and if they play two spinners, it seems likely that Tim Southee and Trent Boult will be the two quicks with Neil Wagner missing the 11.
Spin has dominated in the West Indies’ first-class competition in recent weeks.
Hesson will also name a New Zealand A squad today for first-class and one-day matches in England.
Likely Test squad: Brendon McCullum (c), Tom Latham, Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, BJ Watling, Luke Ronchi, Jimmy Neesham, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi, Todd Astle, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult.
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