Australian international is happy to be home

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 22/09/2012
Luke Ronchi
CRAIG SIMCOX/Fairfax NZ
FIREBIRD: New Firebird Luke Ronchi.

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The easy part for Luke Ronchi was to declare his cricketing allegiance to New Zealand. Finding a suitable Wellington home for his family and four dogs was more of a head-scratcher.

Former Australian international Ronchi, his wife Shaan, their two-year-old son Brodie and their dogs remain based at his parents' place in Napier as the season draws near.

Needless to say, the three pomeranians, one "softie" rottweiler and their owners are keen to stretch their legs on some pristine Wellington backyard turf, soon.

“That's been the main issue, the travelling between the two cities and not having a set base," Ronchi said.

"We've got a whole pack, four of them. They're just like the kids, I guess. We're not looking for anything massive; just somewhere for them to run around."

Finding lodgings for three people and four canines wasn't easy. But after weeks of house hunting, and commuting from Napier to Wellington for training Tuesday to Thursday, a capital base for the Ronchis is nearly signed and sealed. It's in Kelson, not far from the Firebirds' other contracted big name, Jesse Ryder.

The relief will be palpable when the removal trucks rumble in, finally completing the trans-Tasman shift which loomed into view in March when Ronchi debuted for Wellington with a blistering 111 against Central Districts at Karori Park.

Now it's Luke Ronchi, contracted Firebirds wicketkeeper/batsman. And, eligible for New Zealand selection in mid January, four years since he played his last T20 international for Australia, against South Africa in Brisbane.

His New Zealand connections are fair dinkum: born in Dannevirke, home town of cricketing cult hero Ewen Chatfield, before the Ronchi family shifted to Perth when he was six. Wife Shaan is a Queenstown girl.

“We've both been in Oz for 20-odd years but we've always loved coming back and always enjoyed the holidays. Being back just feels really comfortable; we're fitting in well and just really happy to be here," Ronchi said.

But don't mention the Black Caps loudly, yet. Ronchi, 31, clearly covets the silver fern helmet but hasn't yet been contacted by coach Mike Hesson and is playing it all down. He becomes available in time for England's tour in February-March, with the likes of Brendon McCullum, Kruger van Wyk and BJ Watling heading the pecking order of glovemen.

"If I worry about that sort of stuff, then I'm not worrying about what I'm doing in Wellington and things won't go well."

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For all that, the big hitter does not want to be just a limited overs specialist.

“I've played the way I play in all three formats. I'm a wicketkeeper first and a batsman second. Hopefully, I come over here and score runs and keep well.

"I just want to play all forms and enjoy them. There's no way in the world I wouldn't aim for test cricket because you don't want to pigeonhole yourself."

He's been training hard with his new team-mates and coach Jamie Siddons at the indoor nets but will farewell them soon after their first official day at work on October 1.

Ronchi's former T20 team, the Perth Scorchers, qualified for the Champions League in South Africa so he'll depart in early October, potentially missing Wellington's Plunket Shield opener starting on October 28 if his team fire.

“It just depends on how well we go whether I can get back for the first game or not. The semis are on the 25th and 26th so if we play the 25th and lose that, then I'll be able to get back, but the 26th I won't with the time difference."

Ronchi gives the Firebirds a formidable look in all three formats. A capable gloveman who scores comfortably at a strike rate of 100-plus, he had a solid mentor in former clubmate and Western Australian team-mate Adam Gilchrist, who "changed the whole game for keepers".

Siddons is clearly a fan, and was overjoyed that Ronchi fired in his first match, which may have silenced any doubters. For Siddon, Ronchi fills a big void in their lineup and there's more to come.

“He's improved out of sight since he arrived, as well. His average the last couple of years [in Australia] hasn't been great so we've had to have a look at it and make some changes and he's done it really well," Siddons said.

“I'm pretty excited about what's going to happen for him. I've got no doubt he's Black Cap material down the track . . . the World Cup [in 2015] for sure."

- The Dominion Post

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