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Boult was a losing finalist at the Indian Premier League on Sunday, and only arrives in London on Monday evening, giving him little time to acclimatise and prepare for the Test.
Middle order batter Nicholls, meanwhile, suffered a calf injury before the Black Caps departed New Zealand, then tested positive for Covid-19 on arrival in England, which Head Coach Gary Stead said “put him back a week or so”. He played in neither of the warm-up matches.
Nicholls would be replaced at No5 by all-rounder Daryl Mitchell, although they have kept the uncapped Michael Bracewell in a 15-man squad as cover.
“At the moment we think it’s unlikely that Henry will play,” said Stead. “Covid just put him back another week or so from where we were wanting but he is progressing really well.
“At the moment he is an unlikely starter.”
Stead was at peace with the likelihood of Boult not being available.
“Trent arrives in later today and we’ll see how he scrubs up but I guess I’ve had conversations with Trent leading up into this,” he said.
“It’s part of the world and the way it is right now and I guess with the complexity of putting schedules together and then you have the IPL on top of that, it just adds another layer to it all. We’ve been through this before with different players. I guess it’s not something that’s new to us and we’ll deal with that tomorrow and work out what’s best for us going forward with Trent Boult in particular.”
With Boult absent, New Zealand also need to decide whether to select a frontline spinner in Ajaz Patel.
Michell and Colin de Grandhomme are set to provide seam bowling options in the top seven, and Tim Southee, Kyle Jamieson and Neil Wagner seem certain starters. That would leave the final spot in the XI between Matt Henry and Patel.
New Zealand possess a solid top four, with Tom Latham and Will Young opening, Kane Williamson at first drop and Devon Conway filling Ross Taylor’s old position at No4. Tom Blundell has assumed BJ Watling’s long-held position as wicketkeeper-batter at No6.
New Zealand did have a batting meltdown in this weekend’s defeat to a County Select XI, when they found themselves 19 for six in their second innings, with old Mitchell reaching double figures among the likely Test top seven.
Stead appeared unmoved by the result, however.
“It’s better we have a loss in a warm-up game than in a Test match,” he said. “I don’t see it as being terribly relevant to what is coming up.”