Cricket: Blackcaps left to rue spin selections as Nathan Lyon bowls Australia to victory in Wellington

Even after being exposed by Australia's Nathan Lyon, Blackcaps captain Tim Southee has no regrets over not selecting a specialist spinner for the series opening test at the Basin Reserve.  

As the Blackcaps crashed to defeat by 172 runs before lunch on day four, in conditions that have long favoured seam bowling, Lyon was New Zealand's chief tormentor.  

After a four-wicket haul in the first innings, Lyon took 6/65 in the second to finish with match figures of 10/108.

Nathan Lyon claimed 10 wickets in the match.
Nathan Lyon claimed 10 wickets in the match. Photo credit: Getty Images

Lyon's displays were the first time a spinner took a ten-wicket haul in New Zealand since 2006, when Daniel Vettori and Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka did so in the same match, at the same venue.  

But while Lyon excelled, the Blackcaps' XI contained no bowler of his ilk.  

While his quality speaks for itself - with 527 test wickets - no Kiwi was capable of matching Lyon regardless of selection. New Zealand instead opted for two part-timers.  

Both Glenn Phillips (5/45) and Rachin Ravindra (1/24) provided spin options, despite being selected predominantly for their ability with the bat.

And instead of a specialist, the Blackcaps selected Scott Kuggeleijn to bat at No.8 as a fourth seamer, and took figures of 2/93, to go with a first innings duck and second innings 26.

While Phillips' efforts were admirable, as his maiden five-wicket haul in any form of professional cricket, and the first for a Kiwi at home since 2008, Lyon showed selectors exactly what is possible, especially in the first innings where the Blackcaps failed to contain Cameron Green – who finished not out with 174.  

The Blackcaps' modern success has been largely built on fast bowlers, with Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner both rising up the list of New Zealand's all-time wicket-takers, while Matt Henry and Kyle Jamieson have taken their limited opportunities to become regulars of late.  

That has seen spin often take a back seat, and instead force selectors to fill the all-rounder spot with the likes of Michael Bracewell, Mitchell Santner, and now Phillips.

Over the last four days in the capital, though, Lyon has shown the value of specialist spinners, even in conditions that don't suit. 


Glenn Phillips took 5/45 in Australia's second innings.
Glenn Phillips took 5/45 in Australia's second innings. Photo credit: Getty Images

Speaking after his side's emphatic defeat, though, Southee asserted that while he and coach Gary Stead failed to correctly read the conditions, there were no regrets over the make-up of the playing XI.   

"We've played a lot of cricket here, and I haven't seen it spin like that," he said. "So it's a tough one.  

"You look back on the last few days, and if you knew what was going to happen, you'd do things slightly differently.  

"But that's the beauty of live sport. You make decisions, you get on with them, and try to make the best out of the decisions you've made."  

Should New Zealand have wanted a specialist, though, the options are limited.  

Even after taking a history-making 10 wicket haul against India in 2021, and match figures of 8/111 in his last test to beat Bangladesh at the end of 2023, Ajaz Patel hasn't played at home since February 2020.  

Instead, Santner is the only specialist spin option in the New Zealand squad, but wasn't needed for Wellington.  

Before facing South Africa in two tests earlier this month, coach Stead declared Santner as the best spinner in New Zealand.  

While his test figures don't make for as good a reading as Lyon – 53 wickets in 26 tests at an average of just under 40 – Santner has bettered his career-best figures in his last two successive tests against Bangladesh in Mirpur (6/116), and South Africa at Mt Maunganui (6/93). 

And as a mainstay of the New Zealand side in 50 and 20 over cricket, Lyon himself backs Santner to fill the same role in the Blackcaps' test ranks.  

"You're asking a spinner if a spinner should be picked," quipped Lyon. "I do feel for Mitch, he's a class bowler - you see that in the white ball formats, he plays every game.  

"I'd love to see them play a spinner, even in these conditions here at home.  

"But that's a spinner's opinion, I'll always fly the flag for the spinners."