Wellington's Luke Ronchi, playing for keeps
Luke Ronchi becomes eligible to play for New Zealand on January 13 and Wellington coach Jamie Siddons believes the wicketkeeper's services will be called on soon after.
The Dannevirke-born Ronchi played four one-day internationals and three Twenty20 games for Australia and it's little over a month until his compulsory four-year stand-down is over.
In his four first-class games for the Siddons-coached Firebirds, Ronchi averages 80, scoring two hundreds. The 31-year-old is yet to fire in his two Twenty20 outings for Wellington but gets another chance tonight when they meet Central Districts in Napier.
Ronchi's ability to score runs all round the wicket, at a quick tempo, tends to be the first thing people notice about him. But batting is not his biggest strength, insists Siddons.
"He's the best keeper in the country - no doubt," he said.
"Almost everyone I've spoken to has said the same thing. He's very good and that's his trade, not batting."
Nine days out of 10, Brendon McCullum is the best gloveman in New Zealand. But knee and back problems have limited his ability to keep fulltime, handing opportunities to the likes of Gareth Hopkins, Reece Young, B J Watling and Kruger van Wyk in the test arena.
If the Black Caps wanted a wicketkeeper capable of doing the job across all three international formats, then Ronchi was the best candidate, said Siddons.
"It will all be to do with whether McCullum keeps keeping in Twenty20 and one-dayers, whether Ronchi gets a crack.
"He needs to keep making runs and do it in [domestic] one-day cricket at the end of the year and then there's no doubt he'll be considered.
"If he's making runs and doing the job behind the stumps like he has, he'll have to be considered and be very likely [to get picked] I think." Ronchi will bat five for Wellington tonight, a spot behind new skipper James Franklin. The Firebirds will play two spinners, with Jeetan Patel a certainty and then Luke Woodcock or Mark Houghton being the other.
Houghton will play only if Woodcock's pregnant partner goes into labour before the match starts.
Central Districts have a touch-and-go selection of their own, with all-rounder Jacob Oram laid low by a throat infection.
Should Oram play he would form part of an impressive pace bowling battery that includes English import Peter Trego and Black Caps Doug Bracewell and Adam Milne.
Bracewell and Milne, along with Franklin, will all be available when Wellington and CD start their subsequent four-day clash at Karori Park on Monday. The trio are expected to be named in New Zealand's Twenty20 squad to play in South Africa later this month but will stick around for the Plunket Shield match on a pitch Siddons expects to be a belter.
"We had a great practice wicket there the other day, so I'm hoping for something like that," Siddons said.
"It had plenty of bounce, a little bit of seam but not much and a bit in it for everyone. If they can do something like that, it'll be a great cricket wicket."
HOW THEY LINE UP
What: Domestic Twenty20 cricket Who: Central Districts v Wellington Where and when: McLean Park, Napier. Sky Sport 1, 7.10pm tonight TAB odds: CD $2.20, Wellington $1.62
Central Districts (from): Jamie How (c), Peter Trego, Mathew Sinclair, Carl Cachopa, William Young, Kruger van Wyk, Jacob Oram, Ben Smith, Doug Bracewell, Marty Kain, Adam Milne, Ajaz Patel
Wellington (from): Jesse Ryder, Michael Pollard, Michael Papps, James Franklin (c), Luke Ronchi, Grant Elliott, Harry Boam, Scott Kuggeleijn, Luke Woodcock, Chris Woakes, Jeetan Patel, Dane Hutchinson, Mark Houghton
The Dominion Post