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