Head coach Mike Hesson says that New Zealand are not short of options when it comes to picking their openers for the upcoming series against India. Hesson believes Luke Ronchi could be an ideal candidate to fill in the shoes of either Martin Guptill or Tom Latham, when needed.
Hesson said that New Zealand's regular opening pair of Martin Guptill and Tom Latham were likely for the first Test in Kanpur, from September 22, but the side had back-up options in Ronchi, Mitchell Santner and Henry Nicholls. Ronchi has played only one Test so far – against England at Headingley last year.
"It's not your traditional New Zealand opener that you require over there; you need guys who can score against spin, find ways to rotate the strike and keep the game moving," Hesson was quoted as saying by stuff.co.nz. "It does [bring Ronchi into the mix]. Luke's there as a back-up batsman as well as a back-up keeper. His ability against spin certainly makes him an option."
Hesson said the selection of the line-up would be influenced by the likelihood of spinners, particularly R Ashwin, opening the bowling for India or being brought into the attack early on. "Seamers if anything might bowl two-three overs up front and it's more likely they're going to have spin at one end to start with if they're going to play three of them," he said.
"And if you've got two left-handers against Ashwin at the top it's going to be a big challenge for us. We have to assess conditions and pick what we think is the right mix."
Hesson also stated that New Zealand could consider three spinners if the Kanpur pitch looks dry. If implemented, the three-spinner strategy will see offspinner Mark Craig's return to the New Zealand side.
Craig has played only one of New Zealand's six Tests this year – against Australia in Wellington – but Hesson felt the offspinner had come back well from the 2015-16 season where he took 10 wickets in four Tests at an average of 66.60.
Between them, Craig, Ish Sodhi and Santner have played only 34 Tests but Hesson said that all three had evolved well. Sodhi and Santner had an impressive run during the World T20 in India earlier this year, leading the wicket charts for New Zealand with 10 dismissals each.
"They're a young spin-bowling group. Probably Ish and Mitch have found white-ball cricket a little easier than Test cricket," Hesson said. "They're both evolving nicely and it's about giving them opportunity.
"I've been really pleased with the way Mark Craig has come back from last season. He's made a few changes technically and the ball seems to be coming out really nicely."
One worry for New Zealand is Guptill's form in 2016. In the home series against Australia, he scored 81 runs in four innings at 20.25, while his record in South Africa was worse – 15 runs in three innings. His only Test fifty in six matches this year came against Zimbabwe.
In India, Guptill has scored 187 runs in four Tests at an average of 23.37 with two fifties. Hesson encouraged Guptill to play the natural, attacking game that has brought him success in limited-overs cricket.
"That message has been out there a long time," Hesson said. "It's important for Martin that we can see that out on the field and he can transfer what he's been training onto the park. I know he's working hard at it."
Guptill too admitted he needed to show more intent in Test cricket. In an interview to radiolive.co.nz, he said: "Test cricket is the pinnacle and it means everything to me to play. I've had a bit of a survival mode about the way I play Test cricket but the intent needs to be there about scoring runs so I just need to go out there and have the intent to score runs in my batting."
Allrounder Jimmy Neesham will be another important player as New Zealand look to balance their attack on spin-friendly pitches. Neesham's previous international appearance was the Brisbane Test against Australia, and he was ruled out of subsequent matches due to a back injury. Having made his return to the Test squad, Neesham is confident he can cope with the workload of the five-day format.
"We've gone about things a little different this time, been more thorough and hopefully that will give the chance of a successful comeback," Neesham said. "I feel a lot fresher now, both while batting and with my bowling.
"I've been able to get my loads up now to a level where I should be able to get through Test cricket. The proof will be in the pudding, but I'm confident."
New Zealand will play a three-day tour match against Mumbai in Delhi between September 16 and 18, before the first Test in Kanpur. The second and third Tests will be played in Kolkata and Indore from September 30 and October 8 respectively.