December 30, 2019 / 4:01 AM / 19 days ago

New Zealand head to Sydney with only pride on the line

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A demoralised New Zealand head to Sydney desperate to restore some pride after losing the test series to Australia with a match to spare.

FILE PHOTO: Cricket - New Zealand's Trent Boult in action against England on November 22, 2019 REUTERS/Ross Setford/File Photo

Little went right in the 247-run thrashing at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where the Black Caps were thoroughly beaten with bat and ball for a second successive match by Tim Paine’s confident team.

Adding to the gloom, pace spearhead Trent Boult has returned home with a fractured hand, having been struck by a Mitchell Starc delivery at the end of New Zealand’s first innings.

He may choose to avoid reading damning reports in the nation’s newspapers, with former players and pundits queuing up to criticise the struggling team.

The dead rubber New Year’s test at the Sydney Cricket Ground at least offers a chance for New Zealand to reset at a venue where Boult’s pace may not be quite so essential.

With the SCG renowned as Australia’s most spin-friendly wicket, selectors have drafted in veteran offspinner Will Somerville to replace Boult.

Somerville knows the SCG well, having played first class cricket for New South Wales state and Twenty20 with the Big Bash League side Sydney Sixers before heading home to New Zealand.

He joins all-rounder Mitchell Santner and legspinner Todd Astle in the squad as slow bowling options.

“Will offers something different to our two other spinners in the squad with his right-arm offspin and height,” New Zealand coach Gary Stead told reporters on Monday.

“Will’s played a lot at the SCG and understands the ground so we’ll be tapping into his knowledge around the chances of that wicket turning and what role the spinners will play.”

The 35-year-old Somerville’s inclusion may also offer selectors an excuse to jettison the underperforming Santner, who has failed to make an impression with bat or ball on tour.

Santner has taken one wicket for the cost of 250 runs while scoring a total of 32 runs in his four innings with the bat.

Santner is hardly alone in his struggles at the crease, with captain and leading batsman Kane Williamson having managed only 57 runs at an average of 14.25.

Australia’s batsmen have piled on big totals but the fourth innings 240 on Sunday was New Zealand’s biggest for the tour.

The Black Caps have at least unearthed a batting gem in the form of wicketkeeper Tom Blundell, who scored a terrific 121 at the MCG in his third test and first as an opener as replacement for the badly out of form Jeet Raval.

“It was hard work out there and the task was immense, but you look at some small positives and that was a truly fantastic innings,” Williamson said of Blundell, who was made to wait two years for a recall after his first two tests against West Indies.

“He led the way and it’s important that we all take a little bit from that.”

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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