WELLINGTON: New Zealand captain Kane Williamson on Thursday pulled out of the second Test against the West Indies in Wellington as he awaits the imminent arrival of his first child.
The abrupt U-turn came just hours after batting mainstay Williamson had told head coach Gary Stead he would play in the match, which begins on Friday.
Williamson had flown home to Tauranga, 500 kilometres from Wellington, to be with his wife Sarah on the eve of the match.
After confirming his availability he flew back to Wellington where, after further discussions with Stead, he agreed it would be best if he returned to be with his wife.
“It’s a decision that we’ve come to around the best interests for him and for Sarah, and also for our team,” Stead said.
Williamson had previously said the baby was due “mid-to-late December”. Cricket does not allow for substitutions if he had needed to leave during the Test.
“He isn’t the first person to have a baby and miss a Test match so our thoughts and wishes are with Sarah and Kane at this time and we want to make sure first and foremost the mother and baby are well looked after,” Stead added.
Williamson, ranked the second-best batsman in the world behind Australian Steve Smith and equal with India’s Virat Kohli, provided the backbone of New Zealand’s comprehensive innings victory in the first Test last weekend with an epic career-best 251.
Dad-to-be Kohli will leave Australia after the opening Test in Adelaide next week to return home for the birth of his first child, meaning he will almost certainly miss the final three matches of the series.
In a hasty reshuffle, Tom Latham will take over as captain for New Zealand and Will Young, who opened the batting in the first Test, will take Williamson’s place at number three.
With BJ Watling recovered from his hamstring strain to resume his role as wicketkeeper it allows the first Test gloveman Tom Blundell to open the innings with Latham.
Stead said the only issue still to be resolved was whether to replace all-rounder Daryl Mitchell with spinner Mitchell Santner.
The West Indies named Joshua da Silva to make his debut, replacing injured wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich, but delayed confirming the rest of their line-up until seeing the pitch in the morning.
There will be at least one more change with pace bowler Kemar Roach having returned home following the death of his father.
Strong wind gusts up to 120 kilometres per hour (75mph) are forecast for the opening day which would make life difficult for bowlers who, on the plus side, could expect another typical New Zealand green wicket.
“You’ve just got to keep your head down a little longer and try to push through the wind,” said West Indies captain Jason Holder, who described the wicket as having “just as much grass if not more” than the emerald Hamilton surface.
Holder said it was important for his side to make amends for their poor showing in Hamilton.
“We let ourselves down in the first Test match but we have to keep going,” he said, but he did not believe the performance was as bad as the result made it seem.
“You look at the ability and what this team can produce, it’s there. We’ve done it before.”