Opinion: Blackcaps must end Ajaz Patel's exile with Trent Boult to miss first test against England

OPINION: If there's one hidden positive in Trent Boult almost certainly missing the Blackcaps' first test against England at Lord's, it's that we could finally see the end of what's turned out to be a troublesome tactic for the world test champions.

Boult's involvement in the Indian Premier League (IPL) final has seen him touch down in London just a few days out from the first ball on Thursday night (NZ time) and should see him scratched from the playing XI.

The next question facing coach Gary Stead and co. will undoubtedly be who replaces him.

Matt Henry after taking seven wickets against South Africa.
Matt Henry after taking seven wickets against South Africa. Photo credit: Image - Photosport

If this were a home test, played on Kiwi pitches, the answer would be obvious.

Matt Henry stands tall as a readymade replacement to take the new ball alongside Tim Southee, boasting recent form, with a man-of-the-series display in the Blackcaps' drawn series against South Africa earlier this year.

What's more, Henry was also man-of-the-match in his last test in England, as the Blackcaps defeated their hosts by eight wickets at Edgbaston last June. All of that comes on top of Henry's phenomenal record with the red ball in county cricket, across stints with Derbyshire and Kent.

If the Blackcaps are to continue with the tactic of a four-pronged pace battery that took them to the first World Test Championship crown, then Henry is the man for the job.

But just because they could, does it mean they should?

A seam attack containing any four of Boult, Southee, Henry, Neil Wagner or Kyle Jamieson should win you almost any test match in home conditions. That's a different story away from home though.

Last December, Ajaz Patel became the first New Zealander and the third player ever to take all 10 wickets in a test innings - doing so against India, some of the best players of spin in the world.

Since then, Patel hasn't bowled a ball for his country. Not one.

In a horses-for-courses approach, Patel was dropped, as the Blackcaps suffered their first test defeat to Bangladesh in a drawn series, before injury denied him the chance to face South Africa.

Ajaz Patel is congratulated.
Ajaz Patel is congratulated. Photo credit: Image - Photosport

In all honesty, not picking Patel was the right decision against Bangladesh, but his absence was felt against the Proteas.

After New Zealand took a 1-0 lead in the two-match series, South Africa's Keshav Maharaj played a key role in helping the tourists square the series, as the Blackcaps failed to bowl their opponents out across 100 overs in the second innings.

Not picking Patel for the home summer might have been understandable, but that has to change now.

Despite protests from India fans about the similarity between English and New Zealand conditions - and hence an unfair advantage to the Blackcaps in last year's World Test Championship final - the two countries are, in fact, quite different.

English wickets tend to offer less movement off the seam for fast bowlers, but deteriorate at a much faster rate than Kiwi pitches, bringing a spinner into the contest on days four and five.

And coupled in with the fact England are quite frankly horrendous players of quality spin bowling, all signs should point to Patel.

With this series consisting three matches, as opposed to the two that the Kiwis have become accustomed to in recent times, managing bowlers' workloads will be key, if New Zealand are to deny former captain Brendon McCullum victory in his first series as England coach.

The Blackcaps have already given an indication that they're leaning towards Patel as well. In the second batting innings of their warm-up defeat to an English county XI, Patel was picked over Henry.

With the ball, Patel bowled 20 overs for figures of 2/55, as opposed to Henry's 1/13 from just five.  

Admittedly, it might prove foolish to read anything into that before conditions at Lord's are even sighted, but entering the first test of the series, with their world title defence now in make-or-break territory, the Blackcaps may need to change their approach to winning away from home.

We'll have to wait until Thursday night to find out.

Blackcaps predicted XI: Tom Latham, Will Young, Kane Williamson (c), Devon Conway, Henry, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Blundell (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Ajaz Patel

Alex Powell is a Newshub digital sports producer