New Zealand’s tour of Australia has been challenging from the moment they faced the pink ball in Perth without a tune-up but things took a chaotic turn at the SCG on Friday morning.
It wasn’t just that Kane Williamson, their best batsman and whose leadership has earned international acclaim, was one of three players too ill to take the park.
It was the sheer uncertainty and staggering series of events that led to Tom Latham donning the captain’s blazer as NZ overhauled their Test XI in a fashion unsighted since 1952-53 when seven players made debuts.
A cricket tour being derailed by sudden sickness is not remarkable in itself; England’s current series in South Africa is another example.
One of the more fabled stories of a desperate search for fit men comes from 1964 in India, when Guardian reporter Henry Blofeld was on the cusp of a Test debut for England before Micky Stewart learned of the ploy and raced to the ground after discharging himself from hospital.
Sick spinner Mitchell Santner’s absence on the Black Caps’ bus confirmed he was out of the XI but Williamson and Henry Nicholls arrived at the ground and had a hit before it was decided they weren’t ready for five (in theory) days of Test cricket.
The tourists also had to find a new new-ball pairing.
Trent Boult’s hand was broken at the MCG but veteran paceman Tim Southee’s omission, because of workload concerns, was more surprising and prompted ire from pundits.
LUNCH! An intriguing first session in the Sydney Test, the bowlers have stuck to the task, both spinners with a roll before lunch 🏏
— BLACKCAPS (@BLACKCAPS) January 3, 2020
Especially after Southee, slated to fill in as caretaker captain last year in the Test that didn’t go ahead because of the Christchurch mosque attack, was sent out as a substitute fielder in Friday’s morning session.
Latham admitted on Thursday he wasn’t sure whether he, Southee or former captain Ross Taylor would step up if Williamson was ruled out.
It reflected NZ’s muddled selection mess rather than serious mind games.
“All those conversations are up in the air,” he said.
So was hard-hitting batsman Glenn Phillips, who arrived hastily in Sydney on Thursday night.
His haphazard debut came after playing a Twenty20 in Auckland on New Year’s Day and wasn’t confirmed until approximately 20 minutes before the toss.
It was understandable that Phillips, tagged the next big thing in Kiwi cricket after slogging six sixes in an over for Marylebone Cricket Club in 2016, had no number or name on his shirt.
Likewise that NZ recalled out-of-form opener Jeet Raval, axed for the Boxing Day Test after averaging 7.3 from his past nine Test innings.
What else could they do? Uncapped beanpole Kyle Jamieson was the only other fit man left in the touring party.