Lockie Ferguson, the New Zealand fast bowler, could be in line for a Test debut after missing the final T20 internationals against England to allow him some red-ball practice for Auckland in the Plunket Shield.
New Zealand face a punishing schedule over the Christmas period with five Tests spanning just under seven weeks, and head coach Gary Stead has suggested that they will have to rotate their seam bowlers, opening up the possibility of a debut for Ferguson.
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The first two of those Tests – against England, with the series starting at Mount Maunganui on November 21 – do not form part of the World Test Championship, meaning there is less riding on them than the three-match series in Australia.
“We have five Test matches in six weeks and I’m not sure the last time a New Zealand team has ever done that,” Stead told stuff.co.nz.
“We have to be really conscious of wear and tear and make sure every Test we play we have fighting fresh bowlers who can do the job for us.”
Established seam-bowling trio Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner have been almost ever-present in home Tests since 2015 – they have played 16, 16 and 18 respectively out of a possible 19 – but given the nature of the fixture list, it is unlikely that they will be able to play in all five of the upcoming games.
Ferguson, who recently recovered from a thumb injury in time to take four wickets with an economy rate of just 7.25 in the T20I series against England, is the fastest bowler available to New Zealand, and Stead admitted that his pace made him a tempting option.
“That’s the point of difference Lockie brings that other guys don’t have,” he said. “We have to work out our best line-up and what we think is right for the conditions, and if we fight fire with fire we’ll see. There’s no doubt that X-factor is an exciting prospect.”
Ferguson took 4 for 23 in the first innings of Auckland’s rain-affected Plunket Shield game against Wellington last week, while Matt Henry, whose ten Tests to date have been spread over four years, will also be in contention.
Stead also said that New Zealand would look to learn from how Australia managed their bowlers’ workloads during the recent Ashes series in England, in which Pat Cummins was the only ever-present as the management made a point of trying to keep the seamers “cherry-ripe”.
“It would be silly for us not to look at that,” he said. “They did rotate their bowlers and it was horses for courses a bit.
“Like us, they have quite a bit of difference in their attack and definitely we have to consider that.”
England’s preparations begin with a two-day match against a New Zealand XI at Whangarei on Tuesday, before a first-class game against a New Zealand A side at the same venue on Friday.
The second fixture, against an ‘A’ team captained by Tom Blundell which includes 11 recent international call-ups, will only be England’s fourth first-class warm-up match in six years.
England’s other winter tours to South Africa and Sri Lanka include a three-day game against an ‘A’ team and first-class four-day warm-up against a Board President’s XI respectively, emphasising a shift in focus towards Test cricket as stressed by Ashley Giles.