Kane Williamson is in doubt for the Sydney New Year Test against Australia due to flu. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Kane Williamson, the New Zealand skipper, has endured a torrid time in the ongoing Test series against Australia. Williamson managed 34 and 14 in the Pink Ball Test in Perth while in the Boxing Day Test, he scored just 9 and 0 as New Zealand lost both Tests by a big margin. Heading into the Sydney Test, there is more bad news as Williamson is in doubt for the New Year Test due to flu. Williamson did not train with the side on Wednesday and there are speculations about his unavailability. Along with Williamson, Henry Nicholls is also in doubt due to a similar illness and looking at the situation, New Zealand have called up Glenn Phillips as batting cover.
Phillips has played 11 Twenty20 Internationals for New Zealand and he has been in great form for Auckland, registering three consecutive scores of 156, 66 and 140* in two one day games and Twenty20 matches against Otago and Canterbury respectively. Phillips has started well in the 2019-20 season by scoring centuries in all three formats, including an impressive First-Class hundred against the star-studded England Test side in Whangarei.
Speaking on his inclusion, New Zealand coach Gary Stead said, "Glenn has been in terrific form this season and has good versatility with where he can bat and the roles he can play. He's been around the New Zealand T20 team for the past couple of years so should feel comfortable in the environment. We're still hopeful Henry and Kane will pull through and we will give them every chance to prove their fitness. If one or both are ruled out then we will consider our options and most importantly how they balance the side for this final Test," Stead said.
Apart from the illness to Williamson and Nicholls, New Zealand have lost the services of Trent Boult who has returned home after suffering a fractured hand following a blow from Mitchell Starc's bouncer. Will Sommerville, raised in Australia, is expected to feature in the Sydney clash but Stead admitted that New Zealand were totally outplayed by Australia. "We've got to find some areas where we can keep chipping away, make improvements and put Australia under pressure for longer. When you get put under pressure for the periods Australia have put us under, then you have to question what we're doing. Australia have three bowlers at 145 kph and a spinner (Nathan Lyon) that's taken over 300 Test wickets so you're always up against it. You don't get a reprieve and that's the hard thing for us," Stead said.
The Sydney Test is under a cloud literally as the bushfires have ravaged Australia, in particular New South Wales. Day two of the match on Saturday shapes up as the biggest challenge with temperatures forecast to soar and smoggy conditions expected. The issue of smoke is a difficult one for officials, who currently rely on a mix of air quality guidelines from the International Cricket Council, state governments and the Australian Institute of Sport.
But there are inconsistencies on what is considered "unsafe", with Cricket Australia and the players' association currently working to develop better protocols around visibility and air quality. Currently, it is up to the umpires to decide whether conditions are safe, without any formal framework for that decision.