Twist to Colin Munro's test cricket dream

RIGHT AT HOME: Colin Munro in action during the T20 series.
RIGHT AT HOME: Colin Munro in action during the T20 series.

Growing up in Durban, Colin Munro idolised Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith.

His elder brother by three years, Brett, played Natal under-13 and under-15 rep cricket with a bloke named Hashim Amla, destined to become one of South Africa's great batsmen.

New Zealand registered as a blot on the landscape, aside from being the home of the All Blacks, until Munro's parents bit the bullet and shifted the family to Auckland for a better life when young Colin was 15. It's a scenario played out in thousands of South African homes over the past decade.

And this move eventually hit the jackpot for Colin Munro, who last night was handed his black cap to become the New Zealand team's newest test player at 25, called in for the injured James Franklin who tweaked a hamstring in the nets.

Munro agreed test selection against his former nation was a dream come true, although the original dream featured different coloured team kit.

"Obviously it wasn't a dream to play for New Zealand because that would be a bit of a lie, growing up in South Africa. Moving to Auckland at 15 and going through the age-groups and playing for New Zealand Under-19 you get a taste of it," he said, on the boundary of historic St George's Park, South Africa's oldest test venue.

"As a sportsman you want to test yourself against the world's best so obviously playing for New Zealand is a great honour and one that I'm happy to be a part of."

It's a refrain sounded by more and more South Africans on the New Zealand cricket scene.

In the past year, Neil Wagner and Kruger van Wyk were all picked for their adopted country. BJ Watling (also Durban born and raised), Wagner and Munro made it three South African-born players in the New Zealand test 12 for this match. And to continue the theme, Grant Elliott was summoned back to his country of birth, to replace the injured Corey Anderson in the one-day team.

All this can't be a bad thing for New Zealand Cricket, for whom player depth has been a constant issue at international level.

Munro can play. Even if he only showed it at Twenty20 level until this season. One shot doesn't make a summer, but television viewers might recall Munro's visit to Westpac Stadium one chilly Friday night in November. He sent a Scott Kuggeleijn delivery on to the eastern roof, possibly the biggest six seen at the ground.

"I just closed my eyes and swung because I missed a couple before that. Kuggeleijn bowled some good slower balls but I knew one would be quicker . . . luckily it came out of the middle."

And there was substance to back up the flashy strokeplay.

He blasted 269 not out against Wellington at Eden Park's Outer Oval in November, then backed up with 59 and 118 in the next Plunket Shield round against Otago. In just 16 first-class games, Munro now has 1108 runs at an average of 58.

"When you score big, people are obviously looking at your next performance. It would have been disappointing to go out and get a low score.

"To get another 100 in the next game, with probably the in-form bowler [Wagner] coming back and bowling in the second innings, and Ian Butler, to score runs against those guys was pleasing," Munro said.

"Growing up you want to play test cricket but the last couple of years I've been pigeonholed into a T20 and one-day player so it's good to get an opportunity."

And he can bowl, some shuffly medium pace which he rates as good enough for limited overs cricket but too slow for the higher level. He expects to fill in a few overs but nothing more in tests, although the incentive is to make the all-rounder's slot his own.

His new skipper, Brendon McCullum, was impressed after admitting the Auckland kid was largely unknown.

"He's been great. I didn't know a great deal about him when he first arrived in the team because of the lack of domestic cricket we play back home. He's an aggressive fellow and he's fitted into the team brilliantly," McCullum said.

"He's worked very hard in the nets and he's got a great attitude. He likes to play the game with a free spirit. He's earned the right to be in this squad and then to make the team after James' injury through his sheer weight of runs in domestic cricket."

Munro found the initial move from South Africa difficult, but, being a sports nut, fitted in at Pakuranga College, playing hockey and cricket. He worked his way through the ranks and got his biggest callup, to the Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka, in 2006.

"Straight after that I played my first first-class game for Auckland at the back end of the season when we had a couple of injuries. I played with Tama Canning back then, who was the senior player, and also Andre Adams when he was in full flight. I learned a lot from them.

"I probably rushed into the first-class side a bit too soon if I'm totally honest. But that opened my eyes."

After some big-hitting performances in T20 cricket for Auckland, he caught the eye of the national selectors and was sent to his country of birth before Christmas alongside fellow newbies Corey Anderson, Jimmy Neesham, Mitchell McClenaghan and de Boorder. He hit a quickfire 39 in a warmup match and looked comfortable, suggesting a further step up wasn't beyond him.

"It was quite a new team, five or six new players with everyone coming in and trying to find their feet. The culture we've got in the team at the moment is positive, I can go out there, play my natural game and see what happens."

The Dominion Post