After Australia setback, focus ‘on smaller steps’ against India for Kane Williamson

Kyle Jamieson will make his Test debut in Neil Wagner’s absence, and it will be a toss-up between Ajaz Patel and Daryl Mitchell for the final spot in the XI – depending entirely on conditions at Wellington’s Basin Reserve – New Zealand captain Kane Williamson announced a day off from the first of two Tests against India.

The absence of Wagner, New Zealand’s most successful bowler in the last 12 months with 46 wickets in seven Tests, has come as a setback for the team. “You sort of don’t replace a guy like Neil,” Williamson said. “I think the qualities that he brings are quite unique. But you bring in, I guess, a guy who targets slightly different areas coming from a slightly different height as well.

“He’s bowled really nicely in the one-day arena and so it’s great that he’s come into the fold and obviously a different set of strengths to someone like a Neil Wagner. But at the same time, we saw in the white-ball formats, the T20Is and the one-dayers, that having a number of guys out to provide opportunities for guys to come in and grow as cricketers at the highest level, it should be a really exciting opportunity for Kyle.”

On the Patel v Mitchell topic, Williamson said that a final call would be taken only after a final look at the pitch before the game. “We just want to take another look at the surface. It’s got a different look to perhaps what we’re used to seeing here at the Basin but I guess still confident that it will still be a good cricket wicket, which it does tend to be here with a bit of pace and bounce.

“So it’s just weighing up what will be the biggest threat from the options that we have.”

New Zealand come into the Test series on the back of a 3-0 loss away against Australia, and New Zealand’s batting failures were a big reason for their defeats, by 296, 247 and 279 runs respectively. Their best innings total was 256 then and Williamson managed just 57 runs in four innings.

“You are just forever trying to improve your game and adapt to the conditions. And obviously in Australia, without a doubt, I wanted more runs personally. But ultimately, I wanted more runs to try and help the team get into better positions,” Williamson said. “That’s always the focus. We come back to New Zealand where the conditions are different again.

“Going over to Australia, we were exposed in a number of areas and I do think conditions were a big factor but also the learning curve of going to a place like Australia where we always know it’s tough and limiting that expectation, so you are continuing to focus on the process that’s held you in good stead for a long period of time, whether it’s winning or losing.

“It’s about bringing the focus to the smaller steps rather than some of the loftier goals that can be achieved but you do need to take care of the next moment rather than you getting too far ahead of yourselves and I think, definitely as a unit, it was a tough series in terms of a result to swallow. But you know you can’t change the past, but you can use it definitely to improve as individuals and as a team, and I know all the guys who were taking those lessons and everybody had a slightly different experience in terms of the personal level, but try and use that to keep moving this team forward I think is the main point.”

In terms of the future, in pace-friendly conditions the India pace attack of Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami – the likely three in the XI – should also pose a formidable threat.

“India have a world-class side and a world-class pace attack that have performed in all conditions, so a really exciting opportunity for our team,” Williamson said.

India have played seven Tests in Wellington over the years, but haven’t won since their first game there, in 1968. The last two Tests, in 2009 and 2014, were drawn, but before that there was a sequence of four defeats. That shouldn’t have an impact in this game, but Williamson did say that New Zealand would try to exploit the conditions to their advantage and try to make life difficult for Virat Kohli’s men.

“I think if you can execute your plans on a surface that’s going to provide some assistance then it’s a challenge for anybody,” he said. “No doubt both teams will be looking to operate as well as they can in the areas that they get in the best chance. But we’ve seen here on these surfaces in New Zealand that there is some assistance early on but the pace and some of the bounce you can get can also provide opportunities for scoring. So there’s a balance there and it’s never a given even when the surface is green.

“So adapting to conditions, playing smart cricket is something we talk about in all formats but especially in the Test arena where the conditions can be dramatically different in all parts of the world.”