Black Caps hoping enthusiasm equals form
There's a young and mightily inexperienced look to the New Zealand Twenty20 cricket squad for the series in South Africa but, if you listen to assistant coach Bob Carter and senior allrounder James Franklin, that has brought with it enthusiasm and excitement rather than anxiety and trepidation.
The proof will, of course, be in the performances over the next week or so as the T20 series plays out, but Carter and Franklin are portraying a pretty excited and eager bunch of players determined to find their way in international cricket, ahead of tonight's tour opener against a South African 'A' selection in Pietermaritzburg, about an hour's drive from Durban.
"Youthful exuberance," was the term Franklin used to describe what international rookies such as Mitchell McClenaghan, Corey Anderson, Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham and Derek de Boorder had brought to the squad in their first week of training in the Republic.
"They're all champing at the bit, they've obviously got no baggage and they just want to get stuck in and see where they fit in terms of the team and international cricket. There's a lot of excitement in the team at the moment, as well as nerves, with guys trying to find their place in the side."
Excitement was a word Franklin used several times in just a couple of minutes, though he knows excitement won't win matches and that is exactly what he and Carter have identified as crucial in tonight's warmup T20 against a side boasting former international Justin Ontong and a host of players on the fringes of the South African national team.
Given New Zealand's poor Twenty20 form, the fact they are touring what many people regard as the No 1 cricketing nation in the world right now, the absence of New Zealand's best batsman, Ross Taylor, after messy and unsettling change in captaincy, and the aforementioned inexperience - Taylor, Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee, Kyle Mills and Jacob Oram are among the names missing - making a positive start is paramount.
"The key is to get ourselves on the park, get used to playing in South African conditions and obviously start the tour with a win," said Carter, who was coy on how many of the newbies would play tonight. At least one will, given there are five in the 15-man squad.
"First and foremost a win, that's crucial to get off to a good start, but also to find out some combinations before the first game," added Franklin.
"There are obviously some new guys in the side so we need to find out where they fit in the side and how their roles are going to play out."
Looking ahead to the three-match series against South Africa, which starts in Durban on Saturday (NZT), both men were adamant New Zealand had little to fear.
"They are also missing a few experienced players, whether it be through injury or rest, they've got a few new faces as well so I don't think there is too much to fear," Franklin said.
"We've got to pick that ranking up and the only way to do that is through winning. You don't come here to be second best, we've come here to win the series."
Carter acknowledged South Africa had also made a few changes, through injury or rest, including promoting Faf du Plessis to captain for the T20s.
"Every South African side is a strong one (but) I think we can go into this T20 series with a great deal of optimism. I think we're very much up for it.
"The boys ahve started off with their trainings very well, full of energy and really looking forward to the challenge of playing in South Africa, and who wouldn't be?"
The match is scheduled to start at midnight (NZT).
New Zealand: (from) Brendon McCullum (c), Rob Nicol, Martin Guptill, Peter Fulton, James Franklin, Corey Anderson, Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham, Nathan McCullum, Derek de Boorder, Ronnie Hira, Doug Bracewell, Trent Boult, Mitchell McClenaghan, Michael Bates.
South Africa A: Justin Ontong (c), Kyle Abbott, Craig Alexander, Davy Jacobs, Mangaliso Mosehle, Aaron Phangiso, Roelof van der Merwe, Vaughn van Jaarsveld, Stiaan van Zyl, Dane Vilas, Hardus Viljoen, David Wiese.