WELLINGTON: There has been significant interest around the pitch for the first Test at Basin Reserve. Two days before the match, Ross Taylor, too, was curious to have a look at it when he arrived for a press conference on the second floor of the grand stand. He couldn’t quite spot the track at first, quite natural when a pitch looks as green as the square around it. It is not a surprise that such a surface will be dished out for Bangladesh, who are playing their first overseas Test since September 2014. Most of the responsibility will rest on Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan and the captain Mushfiqur Rahim, who has recovered sufficiently from a hamstring injury. Imrul Kayes and Mahmudullah did well in the ODI and T20I series respectively and will have to show patience in dealing with balls outside the off stump. Sabbir Rahman is set to play at No. 7, a challenge for the batsman playing his first overseas Test match. There is some trepidation that New Zealand will find it easier to wrap up Bangladesh given the hosts’ bowling strength. Trent Boult, who had missed the second Test against Pakistan, last year due to a knee injury, is set to return to the side, completing one of the world’s most effective bowling pairs with Tim Southee. Neil Wagner and Colin de Grandhomme are a more-than-capable second string and, if New Zealand want to force home the point, including Matt Henry may be an option.
It is likely, however, that Mitchell Santner will be retained to balance the bowling line-up. The green pitch will also be a challenge for the New Zealand batsmen but with someone as assured as Kane Williamson leading them, they should have less to worry. Still, Jeet Raval and Tom Latham will be expected to give them a good start, and with Ross Taylor back in the mix, New Zealand will have a stronger middle order that will focus on posting a large first-innings score.
In the spotlight: Tim Southee was the Player of the Match in New Zealand’s previous Test against Pakistan, having taken eight wickets, including a six-for, in the 138-run win. He will be a persistent threat to Bangladesh, too, with his movement and pace. Tamim Iqbal will have to counter Southee and co first up, with a lot of responsibility. His 104 against England in October was one of his best Test knocks, and he is due for a big innings in New Zealand having scored only one fifty in the limited-overs matches on the tour.
Team news: There could only be one change in the New Zealand line-up with a fit Trent Boult replacing Matt Henry. Given their settled batting line-up, it seems Dean Brownlie would have to wait for his turn. While, Bangladesh will make at least one change to their XI with Shuvagata Hom out of the Test squad. Taskin Ahmed is expected to debut, while Mehedi Hasan could be picked ahead of Taijul Islam to make room for Rubel Hossain. Subashis Roy has also made a case for himself and could be picked ahead of Kamrul Islam Rabbi.
New Zealand (probable) 1 Jeet Raval, 2 Tom Latham, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 Colin de Grandhomme, 7 BJ Watling (wk), 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Neil Wagner.
Bangladesh (probable) 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Imrul Kayes, 3 Mominul Haque 4 Mahmudullah, 5 Shakib Al Hasan, 6 Mushfiqur Rahim (capt & wk), 7 Sabbir Rahman, 8 Mehedi Hasan/Soumya Sarkar, 9 Rubel Hossain/Kamrul Islam Rabbi, 10 Taskin Ahmed, 11 Subashis Roy.