OPINION: So, after all the hissy fits and experimentation, what is New Zealand's strongest Twenty20 lineup?
Based on recent form, past records and intuition, let us cobble together a squad of 12 to prepare to take on England at Eden Park on February 7.
We will assume Jesse Ryder, Ross Taylor, Daniel Vettori and Tim Southee are all fit and that Australian recruit Luke Ronchi comes in regardless of whether he takes the wicketkeeping gloves from Brendon McCullum.
The just-concluded three-match development series against South Africa was more helpful than anticipated.
Although the series was lost 2-1, McCullum settled well into the captaincy role, there was a togetherness about the team that hasn't been evident previously, and a couple of rookie bowlers upstaged more senior team-mates.
The big mover was Mitchell McClenaghan, a 26-year-old Auckland left-armer with lots of spirit, a touch of swing, enough pace and a few clues.
To see a bowler in his first series moving his field about with such confidence illustrates a young man in control of his game.
He is currently a better option than Doug Bracewell, whose bang-it-in back-of-a-length routine is too predictable at this level.
There is a nice little battle developing for the second spinner role, behind Vettori. Ronnie Hira has caught up to, but not necessarily overtaken, Nathan McCullum. Hira was very good yesterday and his economy is a respectable 7.13, but McCullum has an impressive career economy of 6.46 after 42 matches and has been mentioned by coach Mike Hesson as a potential vice-captain.
Nathan McCullum's record and the high opinion the coach has of him presumably means he is safe for now but in summary if Vettori cannot shake off his injuries, then Hira is ready to step up.
Apart from McClenaghan, the other debutants thrown in the deep end against South Africa only held their own.
Colin Munro got a little ungainly when Rory Kleinveldt attacked him around off-stump yesterday, but he is a proven striker at domestic level and gets a hitting role at No 7 in my lineup ahead of Kane Williamson.
James Franklin stays, partly because he is familiar with the English bowlers and partly because he can clear the boundary at the close of an innings.
The bowling spots look after themselves, with Southee back to take the new ball and bowl at the death. McClenaghan and Trent Boult battle for the final pace bowling spot.
Those considered, but ultimately left out, are batsmen Williamson and Rob Nicol and bowlers Hira and Bracewell.
HOW THEY LINE UP
Our New Zealand Twenty20 dream team: Jesse Ryder, Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum (captain), Ross Taylor, James Franklin, Luke Ronchi (wicketkeeper), Colin Munro, Tim Southee, Nathan McCullum, Daniel Vettori, Mitchell McClenaghan or Trent Boult.
❏ Meanwhile, Brendon McCullum had no excuses for yesterday's 33-run defeat in Port Elizabeth yesterday, which meant New Zealand lost the Twenty20 series 2-1.
South Africa set New Zealand 180 to win and while Guptill and McCullum were in the middle anything was possible, they fell in quick succession and the game was as good as over.
"It's disappointing to lose the series but we've seen some good positives come out of it as well," McCullum said.
"Sometimes you have to sit back and say the progression from where we were a couple of weeks ago, to where we are now, has been a good one as well."
McCullum acknowledged McClenaghan as the find the series.
- The Dominion Post
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