Santner retains NZ Test spot over Patel

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New Zealand have retained spinner Mitchell Santner in their Test squad to face Pakistan in a two-match series despite Ajaz Patel's return to fitness, coach Gary Stead said.

Santner was last month brought in to the Test squad that played the West Indies as a replacement for Patel and played in the Twenty20 internationals against the tourists as well as a game against Pakistan last week.

Stead said selecting Santner over Patel was the toughest decision they had to make but settled on the former as he had a few matches under his belt heading into the series.

"That basically came down to the balance of the side and with the four-strong pace attack going so nicely, we wanted to have a spinning allrounder as an option for that number seven position," Stead said.

"It's really unfortunate for Ajaz, who has overcome his calf injury but the all-round ability of Mitchell Santner is our preferred option for this series.

"The fact Ajaz hasn't been able to have any game time in the lead-up was also a concern for the selectors."

Captain Kane Williamson returns after missing the second Test against theWest Indies to attend the birth of his first child.

The first Test against Pakistan will be played in Mount Maunganui from December 26-30 while the second is in Christchurch from January 3-7.

New Zealand are third in the World Test Championship rankings behind Australia and India.

A series sweep of Pakistan would give them a boost in qualifying for the final at Lord's next year.

Pakistan skipper Babar Azam and opener Imam-Ul-Haq have been ruled out of the first Test due to fractured thumbs, with Mohammad Rizwan taking over the captaincy.

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Daryl Mitchell, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling (wicketkeeper), Will Young.