New Zealand have named BJ Watling in their 12-man squad for the two-Test series against England but Mitchell Santner has been ruled out due to a serious knee injury and will undergo surgery.
Watling missed the Test series against West Indies last December due to a hip problem, with Tom Blundell, his replacement behind the stumps, scoring a century on debut in Wellington. But the 32-year-old keeper-batsman, who averages 38.05 with the bat from 52 Test matches with six centuries, has since proved his fitness playing domestic cricket for Northern Districts.
“BJ is a proven performer at Test level for us and brings a lot to the group both on and off the field,” said New Zealand selector Gavin Larsen. “We’ve monitored BJ’s progress over the past few months and it’s great to see him back with the gloves for Northern Districts. Tom Blundell did a great job in BJ’s absence and we’ll keep working with him going forward."
The loss of Santner is a major blow after the spin-bowling all-rounder starred in the recent ODI series against England. In his absence the Black Caps have turned to 31-year-old leg-spinner Todd Astle, who played the last of his two Test matches against Pakistan in 2016.
“Having another spin bowling all-rounder in Todd is of real benefit for us and he’ll be looking forward to his opportunity," added Larsen.
The series begins on 22 March in Auckland, with Eden Park hosting New Zealand's first ever day/night Test match. The second Test will be played at Hagley Oval in Christchurch, starting on 30 March.
“Being involved in the first day/night Test in New Zealand is really exciting and there’s always something special about playing England," said Larsen. "They have match-winners throughout their squad so we expect a challenging series."
The Black Caps will be targeting a first Test series win over England since 1999. The last time the two sides met on New Zealand soil in 2013 the three-Test series finished 0-0, with Matt Prior and Monty Panesar rescuing a draw for the visitors in the final match at Eden Park.
New Zealand squad: Kane Williamson (c), Todd Astle, Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Jeet Raval, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling (wk)