New Zealand captain Kane Williamson has emerged as an injury doubt for Tuesday’s Twenty20 against England in Wellington.
Williamson revealed at his pre-match press conference that he was feeling soreness in his back, with batsman Henry Nicholls called up as a precaution.
“I’ve got a few niggles, a little bit of niggling in my back… Henry is in as cover for those reasons,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to taking a full part in training and hope I should be fit for tomorrow.”
Williamson’s opposite number, England skipper Eoin Morgan, has question marks over his involvement after missing the previous match against Australia.
Morgan injured his groin during training at the MCG and then joined his team on a frustrating travel day across the Tasman Sea, with a five-hour delay in Melbourne airport followed by three-and-a-half hours in the air.
He will be assessed by medical staff before any decision is made.
“Morgs is a big player for them, the leader of the group, but at the same time they’ll be backing their depth.
“They have lots of exciting, talented players and with Jos stepping up (from vice-captain) they be backing themselves.”
Only one of New Zealand or England can join Australia in the final of the tri-series, with Australia winning the curtain-raiser against the Black Caps followed by back-to-back games against Morgan’s men.
“It’s a big opportunity for us and for England,” he said.
“We want to get on the board in the tri-series and it’s very important we play good cricket.
“We know England are a dangerous side; Australia have got off to a great start and come up with the wins but that doesn’t make England any less dangerous.”
England are crossing their fingers over the fitness of captain Eoin Morgan after swapping Australia for New Zealand, where they will hope to relocate their Twenty20 mojo.
The tourists finally ended their winter-long stay in Australia on Sunday, a trip that saw them lose the Ashes 4-0 and then gain a measure of revenge with a 4-1 success in the 50-over campaign – though batsman Dawid Malan is the only player who can claim to have been present throughout.
They signed off with back-to-back defeats in the triangular T20 series and now face two games against the Black Caps with a place in the Auckland final on the line.
What role the skipper will play is uncertain after he pulled out of Saturday’s seven-wicket defeat with a groin injury sustained in training on the eve of the match.
A lengthy and disruptive travel day left him little opportunity for rest – England were delayed for five hours at the airport in Melbourne due to low-lying fog in Wellington – and he will be assessed by medical staff ahead of nets on Monday.
Morgan has been going through a lean run of form with bat in hand but is still the country’s most experienced T20 cricketer and an on-field general whose calm authority and decision-making contributed heavily to the team’s one-day success.
“Morgs has been a class act for England for many years and if he’s out he’s a big miss,” said leg-spinner Adil Rashid ahead of Tuesday’s match in Wellington.
“He’s a leader, he’s our captain and he has been for the past three years. He’s done a tremendous job and he gives us input on and off the field – even Saturday he was there with information, where needed.
“He captains really well, he’s clued into the game and he would be a big miss, so hopefully he’ll be back playing in a couple of days.”
Rashid is arguably England’s most important bowler in a format which increasingly emphasises, rather than undercuts, the effectiveness of wrist spin.
He took more wickets than any of his team-mates in the ODI series, racking up 10 scalps despite never quite settling into a groove, and assumes senior status in the absence of the rested Moeen Ali.
Yet he was barely able to make an impression against Australia, who asked England to bat first on both occasions and were left with straightforward chases of 156 and 138.
A chronic lack of scoreboard pressure left him little room for manoeuvre at the MCG and he was bullied by Glenn Maxwell to the tune of 20 runs in one over.
“It has been frustrating,” he admitted.
“Defending 130-odd when you come on to bowl is pretty hard work for the bowlers. Batsmen don’t play with any pressure when they need six or seven an over. In Twenty20 cricket that is fairly easy.”
“We set ourselves high standards but in these past two games we haven’t quite got it right.”
Rashid will be looking to win the battle of spin against fellow leggie Ish Sodhi and slow left-armer Mitchell Santner – who occupy the lofty heights of third and first in the ICC’s T20 bowling rankings.
The Yorkshireman sits 26th, with England’s highest placed bowler Chris Jordan in 15th, but is unconcerned about such matters.
“We don’t look at people’s rankings or where they are. We just look to play the ball, not the bowler,” he said.
“If they come on I’m sure we’ll have the aggressive mindset of looking to take them down, even if it is number one and number three in the world.”
In the second match of the five-game series on Sunday, it was the Zimbabweans who posted 333-5 in their 50 overs and then bowled out the Afghans for 179 to claim victory by 154 runs.
Brendan Taylor scored a majestic 125 as Zimbabwe leveled the five-match series.
Wicketkeeper Taylor led the Africans to 333-5 with his ninth ODI hundred, before Graeme Cremer took 4-41 with his leg-spin as Afghanistan slumped to 89-7 on their way to 179 all out.
Both teams are warming up for the 2019 World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe next month.
Wicketkeeper Taylor put on 135 for the fourth wicket with Sikandar Raza before being bowled by Afghan star Rashid Khan.
The 19-year-old leg-spinner returned figures of 2-36 from his 10 overs, but the Afghanistan seamers bore the brunt of Taylor and Raza’s hitting, with Dawlat Zadran and Gulbadin Naib conceding 181 runs from 17 overs between them.
All-rounder Raza’s 92 came from 74 balls with 13 boundaries including four sixes.
The Afghanistan chase never got going, with the dangerous Mohammad Shahzad dismissed for just 15 as they slipped to 36-5.
The in-form Mohammad Nabi added 53 with first-match centurion Rahmat Shah, but Zimbabwe captain Cremer took two wickets in two balls in his first over.
Dawlat Zadran put on 64 for the final wicket with 16-year-old Mujeeb Ur Rahman, hitting six towering maximums, but Zimbabwe wrapped up victory with ease.
The two sides play three more ODIs in the UAE before meeting again in Group B of World Cup qualifying on March 6.