On the back of a few weird Blackcaps ODI selection moves, the type of weird selections that make you wonder if anything has actually changed from the Lesson regime, Gavin Larsen came out the gate in selecting Todd Astle as the lone spinner in the Blackcaps Test squad to face Bangladesh. Honestly, straight up, I low key love this because of how bonkers it is and there are so many layers of wtf here, let's start eating.
The rest of the squad is automatic at this stage and Will Young has again been selected as batting cover, continuing his Blackcaps Test apprenticeship. Mayhem and bonkersness for the Astle selection resides in the fact that since the West Indies Test series in late 2017, Mitchell Santner, Astle, Ish Sodhi, Will Somerville and Ajaz Patel have all played Test cricket.
The major point I want to introduce and thus settle on as the main takeaway from this blog thing, is not about my personal opinion regarding who is the best spinner in Aotearoa. Given the nature of this situation, every Tom, Dick and Harry will have a different opinion on who is the best spinner in Aotearoa, so I couldn't give a fuck about your opinion regarding the best spinner either. This revolves around an scene I have in my noggin' of Larsen picking a name out of a bucket and selecting that spinner.
That idea gets even weirder considering that none of these guys have done anything to be dropped, other than suffering injuries. Even Sodhi, who went wicket-less for the first time in eight Test matches (took 2+ wickets in seven of those eight Test's) when he played vs England in Christchurch, played an almighty knock with the bat to save the Test; we all know how important it is for our spinners to be able to bat good under Larsen #bolster.
Somerville came in and casually took 7 wickets on debut and Patel took 13 wickets in the three Tests vs Pakistan. Patel didn't take any wickets in the Test series vs Sri Lanka, mainly because the seamers dominated a touring Asian team. In the immensely cluttered kiwi spinner category, one would assume that Patel would remain as the Test spinner until he slipped up and gave one of the others their opportunity.
Or, Patel would continue as the place-holder until Santner was ready for Test action and on that; a fairly breezy Test series vs Bangladesh in Aotearoa feels like the perfect opportunity to re-integrate Santner into the Test team.
Careful though, I'm not saying I believe Santner is the best spinner in Aotearoa. I merely believe that I am rolling through the most logical scenarios and while I have consistently questioned Santner's free ride as a Blackcap, the fact of the matter is that Santner was the Test spinner until he got injured, thus making him the incumbent. Regardless of how we all feel about Santner's Test spinner abilities, if fit and healthy, one would assume that it would be Santner who would be the guy to replace Patel.
... Be the guy to replace Patel, should Patel need replacing. And we're back around the circle to the point where Patel didn't really need replacing. The most logical move was maintaining status-quo with Patel, next was bringing Santner back and after those two, it's a case of whatever. Both those two logical steps were skipped.
Playing a role in the confusion, is what happened in recent ODI series where Astle was selected as a guy who needed game time prior to the World Cup. That's the clarity I love, some much needed planning in a Blackcaps group that lacked exactly that heading into the last major tournament. However, instead of giving Astle a nice window of opportunity, Astle bowled 7 overs in 2inns vs India, then 10ov in an amazingly silly 1inns vs Bangladesh.
The guy who was selected because he needed an opportunity, barely got that opportunity. Adding even more wtf to this, Astle was used in rather awkward situations vs India, to the point where you may have wondered if captain Kane Williamson knew that Astle was present and that Astle had been selected to bang out some overs.
Did Williamson want Astle in the team? The way Williamson used Astle vs India suggested otherwise, although I'm not keen to expand on this idea just yet. This weirdness from the ODI series in which Astle appeared to be screwed over, sets the scene for how crazy this Test situation is. Perhaps the best way to sum this up is; I legit felt sorry for Astle in these two ODI series and now I legit feel sorry for Patel.
Please don't refer to stats when expressing your thoughts on who the best spinner is either on the Twitta of Facefing. This also serves as advice to not refer to stats when discussing Aotearoa's best spinner with your friends, as well as the reason why I have no interest in any discussion around Aotearoa's best spinner.
It's a bit of a mess...
Patel took 40+ wickets for three Plunket Shield seasons, in a row.
None of the other spinners have done that, but then Somerville has the best First Class average of the group with 25.59 in Australia and Aotearoa.
Patel, Astle and Sodhi all have FC averages in the early-30's, between 30 and 35. None of this trio is statistically so much better than the other, that they command Test selection. Well, you could point to Patel's three 40+ wicket seasons as a defining stat if you wanted, but I'd probably counter that with Patel bowling the most Plunket Shield overs of these spinners in those seasons.
Santner has a FC average of 46.18, the worst of the group. Santner's Test average of 37.05 is notably better than his overall FC average though and is in the same bracket as the small-samples of Patel (35.84avg) and Astle (37). That means that Santner's Test work isn't that much worse than the others (Sodhi's battling on 48.58avg) and Santner is the incumbent, a steady Test performer.
We get no where when referring to stats in this kiwi Test spinner discussion as we talk ourselves around in circles. Any of these Test/FC stats could be twisted to favour one over the other, which is enhanced by there being no statistical stand out. All these spinners sit in the same statistical area and with such minor differences, it's all kinda pointless.
Instead, focus on how we are getting very similar selection antics despite the change in coach. There were seeds of this throughout the ODI summer and with the Test squad selection, came the undeniable weirdness. Regardless of how Astle performs vs Bangladesh, it may not matter because knowing what we know, Astle could be the next victim of these selection antics.
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Peace and love 27.