CHRISTCHURCH: No sooner had Todd Astle been grasping a rare opportunity in Test cricket than he has been hit by injury, a side strain ruling him out of his hometown match in Christchurch as New Zealand target just a fourth series win over England.
Astle took 3 for 39 in the second innings at Eden Park but scans the following day showed he had picked up the injury. He had a previous side strain earlier in the season and this one means he still has yet to play consecutive Tests after single outings in 2012 and 2016.
“Through some incredibly hard work, Todd’s already overcome some injuries this summer, so for this to happen now is a cruel blow,” coach Mike Hesson said. “Todd played a major role in helping us win the game at Eden Park, so it’s disappointing for Todd and the team that he’s forced to the sideline ahead of Friday.”
With Mitchell Santner sidelined by a long-term knee injury, it has opened up the chance for fellow legspinner Ish Sodhi to resume his Test career having not played the format since September 2016 against India in Kanpur. If New Zealand maintains the same balance of attack, rather than going all-seam with Matt Henry, Sodhi will come into the match and high on confidence at that. He took career-best match figures of 12 for 62 against Wellington in the Plunket Shield last week, which included a 7 for 30 in the first innings, and 7 for 98 against Otago in the outing before that.
“It was good to get the chance to bowl some overs in the middle so you go into the Test, if I play, with a bit of momentum. It was the ideal scenario,” Sodhi said. “As a young spinner learning your art, the best way to do it is to bowl as much as you can and bowling in the nets is so different to bowling in the middle of games. You have to take the chance with both hands.
“It’s awesome to get the opportunity to be part of a winning team. The last game was fantastic and boys got up a great spectacle with the pink-ball Test so to be part of it is fantastic but I feel sorry for Toddy. He is working very hard in the last game, performed well so it’s heartbreaking.”
Astle’s absence will lengthen New Zealand’s tail unless they take a cautious approach and opt to play an extra batsman. Martin Guptill is in the squad but, on Tuesday, Hesson said the team would not go into the match looking for a draw despite the carrot of the series win.
On the other hand, spin has only taken 14 wickets in four Tests at Hagley Oval. New Zealand didn’t play a spinner against Australia in 2016, and in Tests against Pakistan and Bangladesh, they used a grand total of four overs with Santner not bowling a ball in the Bangladesh contest.
Sodhi hasn’t played a first-class match at the ground since 2015 – and in three matches has a return of 3 for 256 – but believes the surface could offer him something. “It’s normally hard and bouncy and if you gave me the option, and the turn was slow, I’d rather have the bounce so hopefully can extract something out the wicket.”
The prize for a win or drawn Test is significant for New Zealand: to join the team of 1983-84 as the only series winners against England on home soil, and the 1986 and 1999 sides who achieved the feat in England. They will be favourites going into the match after dismantling England for 58 in Auckland and overcoming the rain to win is effectively little more than three days, but getting carried away is not the New Zealand style.
“I think we saw in the second innings what they are capable of and we expect them to be a lot tougher in this match,” BJ Watling said. “They are a quality outfit and we’ll have to on our game.”