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Chaos, illness cost New Zealand 11,000 runs, nearly 600 wickets



If it wasn't chaos, it was close to it. The build-up to the opening day at the SCG was a guessing game of what playing XI New Zealand would put on the park. In the end, it included a debutant who was enjoying a day-off in Auckland yesterday, a batsman who had been dropped because he was in a horror rut and an offspinner who wasn't in the original squad.

There had been a major blow well before the game when Trent Boult had been forced to fly home with a broken hand. Now New Zealand lost their captain Kane Williamson due to the flu bug sweeping the team that also claimed middle-order batsman Henry Nicholls and allrounder Mitchell Santner. The latter, though, was likely to have been dropped after two poor Tests. Williamson and Nicholls came to the ground in the morning to have a net but it was soon decided they were not well enough for the rigours of a Test match.

This was just the third Test Williamson had missed since his debut in 2010 although he had been ruled out of the Christchurch match against Bangladesh last year that was subsequently cancelled after the terror attack in the city. On that occasion, it was Tim Southee who would have stepped into the captaincy, but here the leadership went to Tom Latham. Southee didn't even make the XI. You keeping up?

It was decided that Southee would be left out for the "fresh" Matt Henry after the heavy workload of the previous two Tests - 99.4 overs - which followed the two matches against England. There is a lot of cricket to come for New Zealand with a full cross-format visit by India, then a one-day series back in Australia before T20Is against them at home. Southee did appear on the field early in the first session when Henry took a blow on a finger from a Joe Burns straight drive. The physio was earning his corn. Former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum struggled to make sense of the decision.
"It's a little odd to me. If you look at the last 24 months or so Tim Southee has been a standout bowler in world cricket, not just the New Zealand side; it staggered me a little bit," McCullum told SEN Radio. "They've made the decision, it can't be because of workload as they have two weeks off after this anyway, so it's an interesting decision.

"We look back to when New Zealand were playing Bangladesh and that Test was called off because of the horrific massacre at the mosque in Christchurch. Southee was down to captain that side, so that's a big change from being down to captain less than 12 months ago to being out the side when your captain isn't available."

It all meant that for the first time since December 2009, against Pakistan in Wellington, New Zealand went into a Test without either Williamson, Southee or Boult. Combined with Santner and Nicholls being absent, it equated to a loss of 262 Test caps, 11,108 runs and 594 wickets. The highest difference in Test experience for New Zealand between two consecutive XIs they fielded before today was 164 matches, in October 1990. In this Test, they lost a net experience worth 215 matches, as the count plummeted from 540 Test caps in Melbourne to 325 in Sydney.

A few minutes before the toss, Auckland batsman Glenn Phillips was presented with his cap by Ross Taylor. Phillips had been hurriedly called up yesterday and put on a plane to Sydney when it became clear that Williamson and Nicholls were struggling. In the space of three days, he had gone from playing a Super Smash T20 match to a Test debut. There is some pedigree behind Phillips - a first-class average over 40 and a century for New Zealand A against England late last year - but it will go down as one of the more swift turnarounds to becoming a Test cricketer.

Then there was Jeet Raval's recall, filling the small matter of Williamson's shoes at No. 3, the game after he was dropped following an awful match in Perth were he made 1 and 1 to extend a six-Test run where he had averaged 9.44

The changes to the bowling were, perhaps, a little less of a patch-up job with an argument to be made in favour of the three players who came in. Henry has been New Zealand's first reserve in the pace attack for most of his career while Todd Astle and Will Somerville brought a different dimension to the spin bowling after Santner's struggles in Perth and Melbourne.

However, it was just Astle's fifth Test in nearly eight years after his debut in 2012 - the previous four bringing four wickets - although Somerville could at least bring previous success at the SCG from his time with New South Wales. Then, having picked two spinners, Latham lost the toss. It was that sort of morning for New Zealand.

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