New Zealand captain Tim Southee is confident that Test cricket remains the peak of most players’ ambitions, despite his side being squeezed by the pressures of franchise cricket.
The Black Caps were crowned as the inaugural World Test champions in 2021, defeating India at the Rose Bowl, but things have taken a downward turn for the side since those celebrations died down.
Most notably, Southee’s long-time bowling partner Trent Boult has opted out of a national contract and ultimately prioritised a payday at the IL20 league in the United Arab Emirates over guaranteeing his availability for the two-match Test series against England, which begins in Mount Maunganui on Thursday.
All-rounder Colin de Grandhomme retired from international duty last year but was last seen helping Gulf Giants to victory in the same tournament.
But Southee believes the five-day format still holds a special place in the game.
“I think if you ask the majority of people they still see Test cricket as the pinnacle,” he said.
“Trent made his decision a few months back when he went and played in the leagues around the world. It’s something most people are looking at and weighing up, there’s so much cricket. The times are changing and more tournaments popping up around the world, but for me at the moment I see Test cricket as the pinnacle.
“I’m loving it and as far as I’m concerned my focus is solely on the two Test matches coming up and trying to perform for New Zealand.”
Officials are hoping a healthy crowd of up to 6,000 fans will fill the Bay Oval’s grass banks for the opening day of the series, while the first three days of the second Test at Wellington’s Basin Reserve are already sold out.
“Just look at the ticket sales for this series, there’s still plenty of interest in Test cricket and that’s exciting,” added Southee.
“Credit to Ben and Brendon and the way they’ve turned things around and made it exciting for people to come and watch and be part of it. They’re playing some great cricket and they’re full of confidence. It’s been exciting to sit back and watch what they’ve been able to do and I think it’s been great for Test cricket.”
New Zealand have lost Kyle Jamieson to injury and Matt Henry to paternity leave since naming their squad, leaving Southee to front a bowling attack that is likely to contain two debutants.
Blair Tickner has been told he will play for the first time and should be joined by one of Jacob Duffy and Scott Kuggeleijn.