McClenaghan full of confidence ahead of opener

TAKING HIS CHANCES: The performance of paceman Mitchell McClenaghan was one of the positives to come out of the Black Caps recent tour of South Africa.
TAKING HIS CHANCES: The performance of paceman Mitchell McClenaghan was one of the positives to come out of the Black Caps recent tour of South Africa.

Ross Taylor might be trying to fade into the background but Mitchell McClenaghan loudly wants everyone to know he's there.

Particularly the England batsmen, ahead of tomorrow's first Twenty20 international at Eden Park in Auckland.

On a day where the throngs surrounded Taylor as he dead-batted questions on his "work in progress" relationship with New Zealand coach Mike Hesson, McClenaghan was setting his sights on the England top-order at the outer oval's nets.

The find of the tour of South Africa, the imposing left-armer said it was his job to continue the all-out aggression on a bouncy drop-in pitch and start the tour on the right note for long-suffering home fans.

"If that's what's needed; if we need to start a fight to really get up these guys and make them feel uncomfortable, then that'll be my role," McClenaghan said.

"You don't want to get too carried away; some guys thrive on that but if we need that, then I'll be leading it from the front."

McClenaghan started with a bang on his one-day international debut, taking 4-20 in New Zealand's win over South Africa in Paarl last month.

He took six wickets at 23.50, and an economy rate of 4.70, in the 2-1 series win which followed an equally impressive debut T20 series as he charged in, made his presence felt and hurried up the home batsmen.

The nerves the 26-year-old felt in Durban on debut will be nothing compared with tomorrow in his first outing for the season on the main oval at his home ground.

With his parents returning from Australia to watch, and plenty more relatives and friends in the stands, he's predicting some early jitters as he eyes big hitters Michael Lumb and Alex Hales.

"New Zealand wickets are a lot more batter-friendly, so there's less margin for error. Obviously it's a new challenge with 45m straight boundaries. A par score is almost 200 in HRV Cup, so if you go for under 30 [off four overs] it could be a match-winning bowling performance."

His confidence, and that of the team, is high. McClenaghan saw England's warmup games in Whangarei on television and had copious footage of their batsmen.

But he felt England's last-ball loss to the New Zealand XI on Wednesday wasn't hugely significant. "It's not so much about the loss for them; it's about how we fought back from a disappointing tour of South Africa to win that one-day series. You can feel that vibe has flowed on and everyone's really excited and confident. There's just no fear.

"Obviously you give the opposition respect but everyone's confident in their own game."

Indeed, the T20 series might well hinge on one stunning performance and New Zealand will back themselves to win.

Particularly with Taylor back in the fold, having completed his first team training yesterday after his much-publicised fallout with Hesson following which he missed the South Africa tour.

Taylor and Hesson, the man who axed him, had the cameras clicking when they spoke during practice. The former skipper later said: "The relationship's a work in progress but I've got friends in the team and I'm looking forward to playing for them, and obviously playing for management and the country as well."

Taylor saw the man who succeeded him, Brendon McCullum, for the first time yesterday but maintained there was no issue with any of his team-mates, McCullum included.

"I'm sure we'll go and meet up over the next couple of days somewhere. I don't think there was anything wrong with our relationship in the first place."

Meanwhile, there was one injury concern among the 13-strong New Zealand squad, with all-rounder Ian Butler in serious doubt with an ankle injury suffered during Tuesday's match in Whangarei.

The newly recalled Butler didn't train yesterday and was still being assessed last night.

No-one had been summoned to the squad as cover, a team spokeswoman said.

The Dominion Post