Blackcaps v Australia: No concerns over Scott Kuggeleijn's match fitness despite T20 diet before test call-up

The Blackcaps have no concerns over the match fitness of Scott Kuggeleijn, who has been called into New Zealand's 14-man squad to face Australia in two tests.

Kuggeleijn, 32, returns for what could be his second taste of test cricket, after making his debut against England in 2023.

However, he hasn't played a red ball match since November, when the last round of New Zealand's Plunket Shield first-class competition paused, so the T20 Super Smash could take centre stage over the holiday break.

Scott Kuggeleijn celebrates a wicket with Michael Bracewell (2023).
Scott Kuggeleijn celebrates a wicket with Michael Bracewell (2023). Photo credit: Getty Images

So far this season, Kuggeleijn tops the four-day bowling returns with 22 wickets at an average of 16.40 from four matches, supplemented by 118 runs at 23.60 with the bat.

However, since the last round of the Plunket Shield in November, Kuggeleijn has played solely Twenty20 cricket, across stints with Northern Brave in Super Smash and Dubai Capitals in the UAE International League T20.  

In 10 games for the Brave, he took eight wickets at an average of 29.75, while adding a further 13 wickets at 20.92 for Dubai.

While any player called into the squad lacks first-class match practice since November, Kuggeleijn's stint in the UAE only ended on Sunday morning, when the Capitals were hammered by Mumbai Indians Emirates in the tournament final.

Earlier this summer, Blackcaps coach Gary Stead explained Trent Boult won't be selected for test cricket due to a lack of preparation with a red ball, despite his previous success in the format.  

While Kuggeleijn hasn't played a first-class match since November, Boult hasn't played one since 2022.

Workloads for test cricket differ vastly from that of T20, where bowlers deliver only four overs in one night, as opposed to 2-3 spells per day.

With Kuggeleijn and the rest of the Kiwi contingent in the UAE likely travelling back in the coming days, the test call-up will enter the Australia series cold, without any redball match practice.

Scott Kuggeleijn's batting will be key against Australia, says coach Gary Stead.
Scott Kuggeleijn's batting will be key against Australia, says coach Gary Stead. Photo credit: Getty Images

Discussing Kuggeleijn's selection, Stead insists there are no concerns over his match fitness before this summer's marquee test series.  

"Everyone's basically in that boat that's new into the test squad," Stead told Newshub. "That's when Plunket Shield finished. Scott's been bowling right through.

"He's been part of the Ford Trophy at the start of the season as well, so from a loading perspective, he's fine."

Despite the lack of preparation, Kuggeleijn's presence in the squad is a huge boost, after the Blackcaps lost Kyle Jamieson to a stress fracture in his back.

The bowling all-rounder is one of few players in New Zealand able to bowl at speeds approaching 140kph with a red ball and boasts test experience - albeit a chastening one at the hands of Brendon McCullum's England.  

With New Zealand's lower order likely to be asked to contribute against Australia's world-leading pace attack of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, runs from the tail will be key.

"We just felt with the two pitches we're likely to see, we wanted to have a bit of extra pace," added Stead.

"Scott's obviously top of the wicket-taking charts this year, he provides a batting option for us at No.8 as well.

"We're certainly really happy with how he's been going and the skillset he possesses that we think gives us the best chance of beating Australia.

"He's there as an option to come in. If we play four seamers, he's a chance of playing, because he does provide that opportunity to bat at No.8."