Grant Elliott the bolter in New Zealand squad for Cricket World Cup
Grant Elliott's batting strength and experience in Australasian conditions were the deciding factors in his surprise selection for New Zealand's 15-strong Cricket World Cup squad.
Elliott, who hasn't played a one-day international in 14 months, was preferred to incumbent Jimmy Neesham in the biggest selection talking point of today's announcement at Hagley Oval in Christchurch.
Canterbury fast bowler Matt Henry was the other unlucky player, missing out on the final pace bowling spot, while fellow young quick Adam Milne and veteran Kyle Mills were both included.
Elliott, 35, forced his way in on the strength of an outstanding Twenty20 campaign for domestic champions Wellington, with bat and ball. He played the last of his 51 ODIs in Sri Lanka in November 2013 and averages 30 with the bat and 27 with the ball in his international career.
His batting ability won him the nod over Neesham who struggled through the tour of the United Arab Emirates, but looked to have rediscovered his form in the first test against Sri Lanka.
Clearly coach and chief selector Mike Hesson saw it as too much of a risk to have Neesham covering the top-six after they went heavy on bowlers with five pacemen and two spinners, Daniel Vettori and Nathan McCullum.
"The key for us was we needed someone, who could bat four, five and six. Four and five initially and six to cover if Corey [Anderson] was to be injured," Hesson said.
"The fact Grant has performed very well in New Zealand and Australia conditions, he's in good form, he's able to offer us a bowling option and he's experienced [counted in his favour].
"He's got a bit of craft about him, how he delivers the ball. He's a welcome addition to the squad and I'm sure he'll do very well for us."
Hesson said Neesham went close and there would be opportunities for him again in the ODI squad in the future.
"I think every person that was in the 30 that missed out was very disappointed. This is a huge event and an event everyone in those 30 wanted to be a part of."
Henry could be labelled the unluckiest cricketer in New Zealand after a storming start to his international career. He snared 19 wickets at 15 in his first six ODIs and played a key role in New Zealand's 3-2 series win in Pakistan, although in three domestic games on return he took 2-210 at an economy rate of 8.4.
"It was a tough call. We had six bowlers, who performed very well for us over the last 12 months," Hesson said
"I think the key thing [national selector] Bruce [Edgar] and I discussed was the balance of the squad and our ability to adapt our gameplan to different conditions if required.
"I think within those five bowlers we've got a real mix. We've got genuine pace, we've got swing bowlers and we've got some experience as well."
Milne's ODI record is inferior but he was a must-pick on his form in the UAE where he was accurate and intimidating, consistently topping 150kmh to provide a bowling point of difference not seen since Shane Bond.
Mills returned home early from the UAE with a groin strain but is said to be fully recovered. He adds experience and remains the Black Caps' highest-ranked ODI bowler at 22nd in the world. Tim Southee, his test new ball partner Trent Boult and Mitchell McClenaghan make up the five fast bowling spots.
Captain Brendon McCullum is likely to open the batting with Martin Guptill while Tom Latham will likely contest the No 5 spot with Elliott, and provide cover for the opener and wicketkeeping positions, with Luke Ronchi the specialist gloveman.
McCullum rated the squad strongly and said there was genuine depth in the 15.
"On paper, I think it's without doubt the strongest team I've certainly been involved with going into a World Cup. But World Cup's aren't won on paper."
New Zealand will have to deal with the inevitable expectation of playing a World Cup on home soil, but McCullum didn't think the players would be fazed by the pressure.
"It will be interesting to see how we go, but we've got a very level bunch of people within the group," McCullum said.
"We've got a lot of guys who are very humble and level on their emotions and that helps you to be able to deal with some of the pressures which come on."
AT A GLANCE
New Zealand World Cup squad: Brendon McCullum (captain), Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Tom Latham, Corey Anderson, Grant Elliott, Luke Ronchi, Daniel Vettori, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne.