(Reuters) - 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 has said.
Santner was last month brought into the test squad that played West Indies to replace Patel and played in the Twenty20 internationals against the Caribbean side 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 Santner 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 all-rounder 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 with West Indies to attend the birth of his first child.
The first test will be played in Mount Maunganui from Dec. 26-30 while the second is in Christchurch from Jan. 3-7.
New Zealand are third in the World Test Championship rankings behind Australia and India. A series sweep 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 squad
Kane Williamson (captain), 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
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)