Jos Buttler is a serious injury doubt for the second Test in Hamilton after suffering a back spasm in training.
Joe Root has confirmed that Ollie Pope will keep wicket if Buttler is, as expected, unable to play.
That would be big ask of Pope. He has kept in just five first-class games, the last of which was in February. Rory Burns, England’s opening batsman, has also kept wicket at first-class level, but not since 2014.
“Jos has tweaked his back in the gym,” Root said. “We’ll have to find out a little bit more information on that throughout today and see where he’s at.”
The obvious replacement for Buttler is Kent’s top-order batsman Zak Crawley. He is 21 and averages a modest 31.27 in first-class cricket. But he has looked impressive all tour, scored a century in the only innings he has played and looks a terrific fielder.
But Root also hinted that Chris Woakes was another option. England are also understood to be considering dropping their spinner, Jack Leach, and utilising a five-man seam attack. While Leach was generally tidy in the first Test, his lack of bite was something of a disappointment. Certainly Mitchell Santner found more life in the pitch in England’s second innings.
The pitch at Hamilton also looks surprisingly green and, as of Thursday afternoon, a little damp. With an appreciable covering of grass, it would be no surprise if the captain winning the toss asked the opposition to bat first.
“There’s a number of different combinations we could go with and I think a lot of that will rely on the surface,” Root said. “Trying to find the best combination which would take 20 wickets and then balancing that in terms of getting the batting where we want it to be. It could be an allrounder, we’ll see.”
Realistically it seems Buttler is unlikely to play. England will be reluctant to go into a Test with a question mark over the fitness of a key player meaning Pope is likely to take the gloves. He enjoyed an extended session with Bruce French, England’s keeping coach, at training on Thursday.
While Pope is a relatively inexperienced keeper, England dismissed the idea of calling-up a last-minute replacement; Ben Cox of Worcestershire, for example, who is currently playing Grade cricket in Adelaide. Not only would it have proved tricky to get someone to New Zealand in time, it would have been asking a lot of them to acclimatise to the conditions and the unique team environment. It might also have undermined the position of Pope who was selected as reserve keeper in the original tour party.
“We knew that this was a possibility when we selected the squad,” Root said. “I’m quite happy that Popey’s got the capability of doing a good job for us.”