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NZ vs SA: Gary Stead provides updates on Kane Williamson, Henry Nicholls, Kyle Jamieson, Mitchell Santner

Nicholls had made an unbeaten 200 against Sri Lanka in Wellington in March 2023, but apart from that he hasn’t passed 40 in his last 11 Tests. All up, Nicholls has nine Test hundreds, level with former captain Stephen Fleming. Among active New Zealand players, only Tom Latham (13) and Kane Williamson (29) have more Test centuries than Nicholls.

“His currency is weight of runs, isn’t it? To do that in domestic cricket and show that he’s the next person in line is still really possible to do,” Stead said. “He’s still relatively young in his career – he’s only early 30s [32] – we definitely don’t see it as the end for him. It’s definitely a setback but there’s no reason why he can’t make it back again.”

Stead explained that it was a difficult decision to leave Nicholls out for Rachin Ravindra, who was the breakout star of the 2023 ODI World Cup in India.

“It’s a very tough decision,” Stead said. “I mean, Henry has been a big part of the Test squad for 56 Tests and so whenever you leave a player out then it weighs heavy with you and it’s a tough decision to make. But we just felt it was time for Rachin in Test cricket and we obviously know the talent he is and feel that he will make a really good fist of it at this stage of his career.

“Look, it’s a tough conversation. They are not easy to have. He’s a great person; he always does the little things really well, which you guys would never see. That’s what makes it hard in a decision like this.”

Stead: Santner is the best spinner in NZ

Ajaz Patel was New Zealand’s frontline spinner in Bangladesh, but a return to seam-friendly conditions at home means a spin-bowling allrounder will do the job for them. And that spin-bowling allrounder is Mitchell Santner, given his dual ability to both defend and attack. Ravindra and Glenn Phillips are the other spin options for New Zealand.

“Mitch Santner, in our opinion right now, is the best spinner in New Zealand,” Stead said. “He’s been bowling beautifully and certainly in New Zealand conditions as well. He provides the options of knowing to hold and attack. I think we’re going to need that throughout the series.”

Williamson, Blundell, Jamieson ready for first Test

Stead was also confident of captain Kane Williamson, wicketkeeper Tom Blundell, and fast-bowling allrounder Kyle Jamieson being fit for the first Test against South Africa, which begins in Mount Manganui on February 4. All three players are working their way back from hamstring injuries. On Friday, Jamieson turned out for Canterbury against Wellington in the Super Smash Eliminator, taking 1 for 31 in his four overs to help his team get into the final against Auckland. Blundell, though, did not feature in that game for Wellington.

Jamieson might also play for New Zealand XI against the visiting South Africans in a three-day warm-up game, which begins on January 29 at Lincoln’s Bert Sutcliffe’s Oval.

“The three guys with injury concerns – Kane, Kyle and Tom – I’ve spoken to them all,” Stead said. “They are all tracking really well. All training hard. Kyle starts playing, Tom Blundell has had a couple of big days of training, which is encouraging that he has got through that without any further feeling in his hamstring. So, we are really confident that him and Kane will be ready for the first Test.”

‘Will O’Rourke has got something about him’

Will O’Rourke, who is a clone of Jamieson, has been picked only for the second Test in Hamilton, where Stead expects bouncy conditions. O’Rourke’s USP is to generate extra bounce from his tall frame (6’4″).

“I think Hamilton… what we saw in white-ball cricket there has got a bit more bounce into it,” Stead said. “Will O’Rourke has certainly bowled well there this year domestically. In terms of Will himself, he’s a young guy who is emerging and obviously emerging pretty quickly. He has the ability to get some good batsmen out with the bounce he gets in particular.

“He looks like he’s a handful to most players. You certainly get that feeling from talking to people who face him in the nets as well – this guy has got something about him.”

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