Hes­son backs Sant­ner in tests

The Horowhenua Mail - - SPORT - AARON GOILE

Black Caps coach Mike Hes­son has given un­der-fire spin­ner Mitchell Sant­ner the tick of ap­proval and sig­nalled he is likely to re­tain his place in the test side at the end of the sum­mer.

Sant­ner had a quiet time of it in New Zealand’s com­pre­hen­sive 2-0 se­ries white­wash of the West Indies, which was com­pleted with a 240-run drub­bing in Hamil­ton on Tues­day, leav­ing plenty ques­tion­ing whether he’s the right fit for the lineup.

Bat­ting at No 6, the 25-year-old scored just 17, 24 and 26, while, chiefly due to the West In­di­ans col­laps­ing in the face of the quick men, his left-arm or­tho­dox was re­quired for just 21.5 overs across the se­ries, with a re­turn of three wick­ets for 38 - two of those scalps com­ing on the last two balls of the tourists’ sec­ond in­nings at Sed­don Park as the Windies tail slog was on.

And it seems Sant­ner’s next out­ing in the whites will in­deed be in the Black Caps’ next test fix­ture - the coun­try’s in­au­gu­ral daynighter, against Eng­land in Auck­land in March.

There are two good leg-spin con­tenders, in Todd As­tle and Ish Sodhi, who would pro­vide a more at­tack­ing op­tion and can rip the ball more. But the abil­ity of Sant­ner - un­ques­tion­ably New Zealand’s best white-ball spin­ner - to keep things tight and of­fer a rea­son­able amount with the bat, has Hes­son com­fort­able with the sit­u­a­tion.

‘‘The spin-bowl­ing role in New Zealand is a dif­fi­cult one, and it’s a role that you ac­tu­ally have to be able to of­fer to the team in the first three days of a test match as well,’’ he said.

‘‘So if we were to take just a pure front-line spin­ner into this test match, they wouldn’t have oper­ated in the game un­til about day five.

‘‘Your spin bowler in New Zealand doesn’t take a lot of wick­ets, and they’ve got to do a slightly dif­fer­ent role than they do in other parts of the world. You’ve only got to look at his­tory.

‘‘And if con­di­tions do suit to bowl, like at the Basin, he did a fan­tas­tic job for us bowl­ing into the wind, go­ing at less than two an over and ob­vi­ously pick­ing up [Kraigg] Brathwaite.’’

Af­ter 17 tests, Sant­ner’s num­bers aren’t ex­actly im­pres­sive: av­er­ag­ing 25.47 with the bat (two fifties), and tak­ing 34 wick­ets at 37.05, with a best re­turn of 3-60.

But, af­ter be­ing se­lected with min­i­mal first-class cricket be­hind him, he has of course had to learn his craft at the top level, not un­like the coun­try’s great­est spin­ner, Daniel Vet­tori.

Af­ter the same amount of tests, Vet­tori’s bat­ting av­er­age was 18.59 (two fifties), and had 55 wick­ets at 34.14 (two five-wicket hauls), be­fore fin­ish­ing with av­er­ages of 30.00 and 34.36 re­spec­tively.

On the bat­ting side, Sant­ner’s tech­nique - an­gled-bat meet­ing ball - has been an un­do­ing, now bowled seven times in 21 in­nings. And there are ques­tions around his po­si­tion in the or­der, hav­ing gone back up to the No 6 spot he started in. In part that was due to the in­jury of BJ Watling, but Colin de Grand­homme and Tom Blun­dell have now im­pressed, too.

Hes­son de­scribed Sant­ner at No 6 as ‘‘very much a work in progress’’, but had seen pos­i­tives.

‘‘He’s pro­gress­ing nicely, he still av­er­ages close to 30 the last six or seven tests. He’s been part of three very good part­ner­ships in this se­ries - 40, 50 and 70 in the three bats he’s had, and that ac­tu­ally al­lows the guys like Colin [de Grand­homme] and Tom [Blun­dell] to play freely.’’

A nig­gling shoul­der in­jury will see Sant­ner sit out the first match of the ODI se­ries against the Windies in Whangarei next Wed­nes­day.

AN­DREW CORNAGA/ PHO­TO­SPORT

Mitchell Sant­ner’s place in the Black Caps test side has come un­der the spotlight.

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