New Zealand’s wholesale changes show immense strength in depth

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Unprecedented six changes also highlight WTC’s impact on international cricket

New Zealand have never previously made six changes to their side within a series and that they did so at Edgbaston and still managed to take seven wickets after being asked to bowl on a flat pitch was evidence of two things: firstly, unprecedented strength in depth within their Test squad, and secondly, the extent of the World Test Championship’s impact on international cricket.

Tom Latham, their stand-in captain, insisted in his pre-match press conference that beating England was “higher on our priority list” than the WTC final, but that he was saying it in the first place was proof of the inverse: Kane Williamson was ruled out through elbow pain here but would surely be risked against India if he suffered the same ailment next week.
Tim Southee, Kyle Jamieson and Colin de Grandhomme were all rotated out to manage their workloads ahead of the same fixture, and while BJ Watling’s stiff back and Mitchell Santner’s cut finger might well have caused them to miss out under any circumstances, the presence of ready-made replacements in Tom Blundell and Ajaz Patel and Trent Boult’s return meant only a limited drop-off in the quality of New Zealand’s side.

It has been clear for some time that the notion of teams knowing their ‘best XI’ is anachronistic in this era of international cricket but in the Covid era of enlarged squads, bubble fatigue, variety in conditions and a punishing schedule, squad depth is more relevant than ever. India proved as much during their improbable series win in Australia at the start of this year, and with New Zealand fielding 17 players across these two Tests, they are showing that the era of “Hadlee at one end, Ilford seconds at the other” is long gone.

The only time a team has used more than that in a two-match series was when Sri Lanka rested seven players after an innings-and-196-run win against a struggling Bangladesh in 2002, which led Sanath Jayasuriya to complain he had never seen some of his new side before and drew the disapproval of the government’s sports minister – though they still won the second Test by 288 runs.
It is no great surprise that depth at times has been an issue in a country of only five million people. In early 2020, injuries and illness forced them to make five changes for the third Test against Australia in Sydney; the result was a 279-run hammering to confirm a 3-0 series defeat, which seemed to confirm their over-reliance on a small core of senior players.

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