Should New Zealand need supporting evidence to justify including replacement bowler Will Somerville in their XI for the final Domain Series Test in Sydney starting Friday, they won’t need to dig too deeply into their brief playing history at the SCG.
It was on the eve of their most-recent Test appearance at the historic venue in November 1985 that NZ selectors hastily summoned a tall off-spinner who was also a handy lower-order batter, but who had not been deemed worthy of a berth in the initial touring party.
As events transpired, John Bracewell not only slotted seamlessly into Test cricket despite arriving in Australia just days before the coin toss, his contributions with both ball and bat saw him named player of the match in a series that remains the Kiwis sole triumph in almost 50 years of touring here.
Regardless of whether 35-year-old Somerville, added to the Black Caps squad following the hand fracture sustained by opening bowler Trent Boult, plays at the SCG and replicates Bracewell’s 85 runs (unbeaten in both innings) and five wickets, NZ can’t salvage anything more than a consolation win.
Trailing 0-2 in the three-match Domain Test Series, having suffered their two biggest losses (in terms of runs) from the 33 Tests they’ve contested on Australia’s turf, the Black Caps are desperate to provide sterner opposition in the final Test of the men’s home summer.
Consequently, Somerville is expected to come into selection calculations for the SCG given his familiarity with and record at the venue where he spent five years playing with New South Wales before returning to his native New Zealand in 2018.
During his tenure with the Blues, he played five Sheffield Shield games at the SCG where he claimed 23 wickets at 20.70 with a best innings return of 8-136 in 2017 against a Queensland outfit that included current Australia Test players Joe Burns and Marnus Labuschagne.
While Somerville’s inclusion might raise eyebrows among casual observers, it won’t catch by surprise Australia’s batters who can tap into the intelligence provided by the off-spinner’s former teammates at NSW for insights into his repertoire.
“‘Sommers’ is a lovely guy, he goes up the back of the ball,” said Blues and Australia spinner Nathan Lyon in likening Somerville’s bowling style to his own highly effective top-spin method.
“I’ve trained with him being part of the New South Wales squad together for a few years.
“He gets a fair amount of bounce and he’s got a great record at the SCG.
“He loves bowing there, so it would be a different challenge for us and a good one for our batters.”
The reason that NZ didn’t call up a like-for-like replacement for swing bowler Boult is the current touring party already includes auxiliary quicks Matt Henry and Kyle Jamieson (who was added to the squad after Lockie Ferguson suffered a calf strain during the first Test at Perth).
But should the SCG wicket give the indication it will take turn when teams arrive for their first pre-game training sessions on New Year’s Day, Black Caps coach Gary Stead believes Sommerville stands a strong chance of making an unplanned return to his former home ground.
“He’s someone that we’ll definitely consider,” Stead said in Melbourne today.
“Will’s played a lot at the SCG before, and he certainly understands the ground and we’ll be tapping into him and his knowledge.
“I think it helps because he does have that knowledge.
“He wasn’t an original selection in the (touring party of) 15 but the reason we’ve bought him over here is as a replacement for Trent Boult, as we have enough cover for one game in the pace bowling area.
“And certainly spin is something that traditionally at the SCG has been more of a factor than at other grounds in Australia.
“It definitely suggests that we could play two spinners there, without a doubt.”
.There have also been calls for Somerville to replace first-choice spinner Mitchell Santner, who has endured a wretched Domain Series to date (a single wicket at a cost of 250 runs) and whom former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting suggested should not be considered for selection in the final Test.