Feisty paceman relishes the confrontation
Fiery New Zealand fast bowler Mitchell McClenaghan has placed a target on England all-rounder Luke Wright's head, saying his wicket is the key to New Zealand clinching the Twenty20 series tomorrow night.
McClenaghan snared Wright first ball in Hamilton, caught at gully, and with assistance from the recalled Ian Butler, crippled England's top order as New Zealand cantered to a series-levelling 55-run victory.
The Auckland left-armer has been the find of the summer for the Black Caps, displaying a refreshing honesty and confidence off the field and backing his words with damaging deeds in the middle. After taking 2-24 at Seddon Park, McClenaghan now has seven wickets from five T20 internationals, at an average of 18.4 and economy rate of 6.8. In the 2-1 ODI series win in South Africa he snared six wickets at 23.5, and 4.7.
They're impressive numbers, and after removing Wright, who blasted 42 off 20 balls in England's game one victory in Auckland, McClenaghan will single him out for attention again.
"Absolutely. Luke is one of those guys who can take a game away from you in a couple of overs. Him and [Eoin] Morgan are key players and if I can do my job of knocking off the top three and the boys can find a way of getting Morgan out in the middle it goes a long way towards us winning the game," McClenaghan said as the team arrived in Wellington yesterday.
The 26-year-old also has fond memories of Westpac Stadium, scene of tomorrow's decider. In November he took 3-18 in Auckland's win over Wellington, including the big wicket of Jesse Ryder.
"I got him [Ryder] first ball and hopefully it'll be much the same this time. Luke Wright is one of their key batsmen and he can really hurt us and my role again will be to get him within the first six balls."
Controlled aggression has been the key for McClenaghan.
He was New Zealand's best bowler in Auckland but lacked support. Then in Hamilton he knocked over opener Alex Hales with a beauty, added Wright's scalp next ball, but was a fraction too wide with the hat-trick ball to Jonny Bairstow.
Butler came on first change and bowled a remarkable spell of 4-0-9-2, maintaining the pressure and removing Bairstow and Morgan as England slumped to 47-5 in pursuit of New Zealand's 192-6.
The game showed how wildly momentum can swing in the shortest format if a side gets on top early.
McClenaghan said three wickets in the first six overs was New Zealand's target, which they achieved in Hamilton. He was enjoying mixing it up with England's batsmen, and leading the way among the bowlers.
"It keeps it interesting. There's a nice little battle, a bit unspoken, between me and Jade [Dernbach]. I'd like to come out on top in that regard.
"It's between all of us. We're a fighting team and there's been a big shift. The team is confident and playing really aggressively which is really promising."
The equally fiery Dernbach and McClenaghan went nose to nose in Auckland when Dernbach fired in a beamer with New Zealand well beaten.
"I absolutely loved it. I love getting in those kinds of tussles and showing some fight when things are lost and a bit of Kiwi spirit that we're not going to get knocked down and stay down."
A few other New Zealand players will arrive in Wellington feeling good about themselves. Brendon McCullum (74 off 38) played his most influential innings as New Zealand skipper, openers Martin Guptill and Hamish Rutherford set a solid platform while all-rounder James Franklin cleaned up the England tail for a career-best 4-15.
The only change for Wellington could be the return of spinner Ronnie Hira if the pitch looks dry, given the larger boundaries at the stadium.
The Dominion Post