Blackcaps v Pakistan: Mitchell Santner retained ahead of Ajaz Patel for first test

Mitchell Santner has retained his spot in the Blackcaps test squad for the opening clash against Pakistan starting Saturday.

The left-arm spinning allrounder's inclusion in the 13-man squad, means there is no room for the presumed number one spinning option in the country - Central Stags' Ajaz Patel.

Patel has been recovering from a calf injury, but his lack of cricket this summer has led the selectors to lean towards Santner, who has taken 39 test wickets at 44.71 apiece in 22 tests. 

Meanwhile, in his limited test appearances (7) since making his debut in 2018, Patel has 22 wickets at 32.18.

Ajaz Patel
Ajaz Patel Photo credit: Photosport

Coach Gary Stead says it came down to balance, but admits the call was a tough one.

"With the four-strong pace attack going so nicely, we wanted to have a spinning all-rounder as an option for that number seven position," Stead said.

"It's really unfortunate for Ajaz, who has overcome his calf-injury, but the all-round ability of Mitchell Santner is our preferred option for this series.

"The fact Ajaz hasn't been able to have any game-time in the lead-up was also a concern for the selectors."

Captain Kane Williamson returns to the fold after missing the second test win over the West Indies due to the birth of his first child. His inclusion for the Bay Oval match means prolific domestic batsman Devon Conway drops out of the squad, with two-test top-order batsman Will Young the batting cover.

Colin de Grandhomme's continued absence sees Daryl Mitchell retained and he would seem to be in a race with Santner for the final spot in the playing XI, with the sectors likely to stick with the four-pronged pace-attack of Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Kyle Jamieson and the worlds No.3 ranked test bowler, Neil Wagner. 

"It doesn't get much bigger than a Boxing Day test on your home ground," says Wagner 

"The community have really got behind Bay Oval and to see a bumper crowd there on Boxing Day will be pretty special as a local player."

With India staring down the barrel of a tough red-ball campaign in Australia, the Blackcaps have a legitimate chance of forcing their way into the World Test Championship final a Lord's next year 

A clean sweep against Pakistan and a dominant series victory for Australia could be enough to propel the Blackcaps into second spot above India, by the end of the summer.

"The test team have played some really good cricket of late and to have an opportunity to push for a World Test Championship Final is truly exciting," Wagner said.

"Pakistan are a dangerous side with class players throughout their line-up - so we know we'll have to be at the top of our game."

Neil Wagner
Neil Wagner Photo credit: Getty

The test squad assembles in Mount Maunganui on Wednesday ahead of the Boxing Day test.

Blackcaps test squad:

Kane Williamson (c), Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham (vc), Daryl Mitchell, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling (wk) and Will Young.