Early signs look good for ODI World Cup squad
Take the 13 names announced on Thursday, add Tim Southee and Trent Boult, place a questionmark beside Daniel Vettori and throw in a couple of backup options.
From that list of contenders, New Zealand's squad for the World Cup on home soil is fast taking shape. Most of the 15 names will be pencilled in when the one-year countdown begins on February 14, by which time 10 one-day internationals against West Indies and India will have been played.
The makeup of the pace attack and where Boult fits in seems to be the biggest head-scratcher, while gloveman Luke Ronchi has the job for the foreseeable future, under challenge from test No 1 BJ Watling.
"He [Ronchi] gives us firepower and naturally scores quickly. He's got a strike rate of around 120. BJ is also pushing the door, he's close but he doesn't quite give us that firepower. We know he's working hard on it," said national selection manager, Bruce Edgar.
Assuming Jesse Ryder's comeback goes smoothly, on and off the pitch, and Brendon McCullum continues to manage the pain in his back, then the batting looks solid.
A strong top-five for the cup opener against Sri Lanka at Hagley Oval on February 14, 2015, already appears set in stone: Ryder, Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and McCullum.
Throw in Corey Anderson at six and Ronchi at seven, then there's four bowling spots in the top 11, with allrounder Jimmy Neesham also in the mix. Tim Southee, anointed by bowling coach Shane Bond as the leader of the pace attack in test and ODI cricket, is assured of one, along with the spin of Nathan McCullum and/or Vettori.
The latter remains up in the air. Vettori is the only New Zealander playing in Australia's Twenty20 Big Bash, for Brisbane Heat, whose final preliminary game is on January 23. If they make the playoffs which run to early February then Vettori will be highly unlikely to play an ODI in New Zealand this summer.
He expects to make an announcement on his international future early next month, but given Vettori's impact on one leg in the Champions Trophy in England, coach Mike Hesson will be moving mountains to persuade him to stay on for the World Cup.
Boult's omission from the 13 to face West Indies, starting in Auckland on Thursday raised eyebrows. His test form demands inclusion at some stage in the next six weeks, especially with two new balls and his ability to swing it, and bowl well in tandem with Southee.
Fellow left-armer Mitchell McClenaghan, though, gets first crack and his numbers remain impressive. His wicket-taking power up front was a key to New Zealand's ODI series wins in South Africa and England, and despite a disappointing subcontinent tour where he struggled to find the right length, he has 35 ODI wickets at an average of 20 and economy rate of 5.7.
There's potentially room for Boult and McClenaghan in the same attack, while senior pro Kyle Mills will need to remain consistent and young Adam Milne's extra pace impresses the selectors as they look to unleash him on New Zealand pitches. Canterbury pair Matt Henry and Hamish Bennett stood out recently, Edgar noted, and are in the fringe group along with batsmen Tom Latham, Grant Elliott and Anton Devcich who played in Sri Lanka.
"I'd like to think we're better off now, post the Bangladesh and Sri Lanka tour. There were guys unavailable and injuries, so we've built the base which is a bit bigger than we first thought," Edgar said.
"Look at Latham, Devcich, Elliott, and sitting alongside that you've got Matt Henry and Hamish Bennett so the fast bowling stocks look pretty good. Henry and Bennett are certainly bowling very quick for Canterbury and Bennett is hurrying along a few batsmen around the country at the moment."
AT A GLANCE
New Zealand ODI squad: Brendon McCullum (captain), Martin Guptill, Jesse Ryder, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Colin Munro, Corey Anderson, Jimmy Neesham, Luke Ronchi, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne. On the fringe: Tim Southee (back for third ODI in Queenstown on January 1), Daniel Vettori (currently unavailable, playing T20 Big Bash in Australia), Trent Boult, Tom Latham, Grant Elliott, Anton Devcich, BJ Watling, Matt Henry, Hamish Bennett.
ODI series v West Indies:
December 26 in Auckland
December 29 in Napier
January 1 in Queenstown
January 4 in Nelson
January 8 in Hamilton