Leigh Kelly's eye on a triumphant finale

16:00, Oct 15 2014
Leigh Kelly
FINAL FLING: Leigh Kelly is having one last hurrah at the indoor cricket World Cup, which starts at Hutt Indoor Sports Centre on Sunday.

This is Leigh Kelly's indoor cricket swansong.

The 40-year-old has played in six World Cup's and the prospect of a seventh in his own backyard in Petone was too good to pass up.

There is also the lure of an elusive winner's medal. He's been to six cups, made the final in four of them, only to lose to Australia on each occasion.

"I made up my mind a while ago that, provided I was playing well enough, I wanted to make myself available.

"I started in 1998, so it's been a while and it's probably fair to say I've been put in most situations you could be put in over the course of that time."

Australia is the only name on the trophy, winning all seven cups, and Kelly is not the type to light a fire ahead of the tournament opener on Sunday by predicting the team he captains will end that domination.

"With that record they [Australia] go in as favourites," he said.

"But our group has good all-round skills and will be pretty accurate in everything we do, so I think we'll give it a good shake."

There are four other Wellington players in the national team, namely Nick Ward, Josh Joseph, Bryce Fellows and Sunnie Chan.

At the other end of the age scale to Kelly, is 18-year-old Aucklander Shaneil Sharma, who is rated highly as both an indoor and outdoor player.

The other competing nations in the double round-robin competition are England, India, South Africa, Singapore and a New Zealand B team.

India would seem suited to the game with a mix of wristy batsmen and quality spinners but strangely they haven't been a force at previous World Cups.

"From what I know they lack for indoor facilities," Kelly said.

"Also, you can be a really good batter or bowler, but if you don't have the intricacies of the game and the fielders to help you out, it can be difficult."

Kelly's dark horse is Singapore because of their mix of ex-pats and sub-continent players.

"They do all their training on a court with no nets, so it's very difficult to come to a tournament like this and be a threat. But they'll have players as good as anyone, but their indoor awareness might be lacking a shade."

The tournament shapes as something of a war of attrition. A double round-robin, meaning 12 games before a semifinal and potentially a final. That is a hard road to hoe for a veteran like Kelly, who has been racing the clock to be fit after blowing out a calf muscle at the club nationals last month.

Kelly has been to two World Cup's in South Africa, two in Australia, one in England and a previous one at home, with an absent note for the 2004 version in Sri Lanka.

He's basically seen it all when it comes to indoor. He's played against a handful of New Zealand outdoor players like Scott Styris, Simon Doull, Chris Harris, Andre Adams, Jesse Ryder, Iain O'Brien and as recently as last month James Neesham.

"Neesham is a very, very good player. He does all three skills well. "

On Ryder he says "His hand/eye was a standout."

Indoor cricket is not everyone's cup of tea.

Traditionalists thumb their nose at it, outdoor coaches believe it teaches bad batting habits and the men's game often seems one disputed call from boiling over. On the flipside, children are playing in their droves over winter, a senior star like Neesham looks for a game when he can and the atmosphere over the seven days at the Hutt Indoor Sports Centre will be electric.

Kelly will always go into bat for the indoor game and not just because he is the national captain.

He has played outdoor for Wellington and coached the Wellington Blaze women's team and believes anyone hitting or bowling balls in the off-season and playing in pressure situations has to be better off than someone doing nothing at all.

"There are aspects that aren't great for the traditional outdoor technique but there are lots of upsides too. A bowler has to learn variations and hit lengths and bowl accurately and that has to be good for your outdoor game.

"Batting similar. Sure, in indoor you aren't going to leave the ball very often, but it teaches you to play with soft hands and to use your bat to find gaps which is a huge attribute in one-day cricket.

"When I was playing serious outdoor, there was a definite adjustment to be made for the outdoor batting. It's a small adjustment and it didn't take me too long. Playing straight is the key in outdoor cricket. I don't think it is too much of a concern.

"The other thing is it helps your fielding and it helps you mentally as a player. It can't not."

It is not only the men chasing World Cup glory. The women and under-20 sides are also involved in competition.

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