Mitchell McClenaghan doesn't look far for inspiration as he rockets up the charts of cricket's greatest hits.
The 27-year-old fast bowler from Auckland just needs to glance across the New Zealand team room to where Shane Bond is poring over video footage of batsmen to try to find a weakness that will provide McClenaghan with his next international wicket.
McClenaghan's rapid rise has even topped Bond's in its speed.
His 26 wickets from his first nine one-day games - at a remarkable average of 17 and a strike rate of 20 - is better than any other international bowler at that stage. At this rate, the left-armer will top Sri Lankan spinner Ajantha Mendis (19 matches) who took the fewest games to reach 50 wickets in one-day games.
"It's pretty cool. The boys were doing a quiz about fastest to 50 wickets, so hopefully I'll just keep doing what I'm doing," McClenaghan said. "That's a true reflection of consistency.
"The faster I get to 50 that means the better I'm doing my role for Brendon [McCullum] and the team."
Bond holds the New Zealand record, taking 27 one-day games to reach his first half-century of wickets. McClenaghan's rise mirrors Bond's. They were both late bloomers, making their international debuts at 26 and gaining instant success.
Now Bond is the bowling coach and spends hours alongside video analyst Rupert Lewis, studying opposition batsmen who McClenaghan has never seen.
"They basically tell you where to bowl, how we're going to get them out, where they're weak and where they're strong.
"It makes it easy when you're out there under pressure to know you've got the research."
It is not the typical teacher-pupil relationship, more two craftsmen sharing trade secrets.
McClenaghan's main mentor, in cricket and in life, is former New Zealand fast bowler Kerry Walmsley who is in regular contact. Former internationals Andre Adams and Dion Nash have helped hone his craft; now Bond applies the polish but not in a do-as-I-say way.
McClenaghan likes to intimidate, bustling into the wicket and letting his big frame do the talking. "I want to model myself on the way he [Bond] used to take wickets and attack the batsman. I don't say much at all.
"I've got pretty poor chat, to be honest. Some guys are good at sledging and some aren't, so I just keep my mouth shut."
Remarkably for one of New Zealand's rising stars, McClenaghan remains unemployed since the domestic contracts lapsed in April.
But not for much longer.
He has just signed a Twenty20 deal with Lancashire, starting at the end of this month. He is in the last-60 for the Sri Lankan Premier League auction (if it goes ahead) and is a certainty for the 20-strong New Zealand Cricket contract list next month, which means a six-figure retainer kicks in on August 1.
McClenaghan has a commerce degree in marketing and accounting from Auckland University but has not had fulltime employment. His last paid work (aside from match fees and a six-month domestic retainer) was an acting job as an extra on the television series Spartacus last year, and a modelling shoot for The Warehouse.
"It was the only kind of work I could get; hanging out for the next job, so I could train all the time.
"That stuff was a bit of fun and to meet new people and keep a little bit of cash coming in.
"It [a contract] takes a bit of pressure off. It's been tough the last couple of years with no job in the winter. It's really hard for first-class cricketers to find work; nearly impossible. Even guys with qualifications, no-one will take you on for three months."
Off the field, McClenaghan has travelled around England with a permanent smile these past few weeks. He is enjoying every minute of his first British tour, even more so when he recalls the intense lows of a few years back.
He shifted from Auckland to Central Districts and made his first-class debut in November 2007.
But it did not go well and injuries struck. He required three operations to cure a problem in both hips, where bone was, in his words, "ripping up the cartilage".
Homesick and uncertain of his future, he returned to Auckland.
Father Dennis - who first encouraged young Mitchell to tear in and bowl fast - mother Jill and younger siblings Tate and Annie got him through, along with Walmsley and his friends.
"It's pretty amazing to think where I am now. I know how bad the low times are and you've got to embrace the good times now because you never know when you're going to be back at that level. I wouldn't have kept going or got to this level if I didn't have a great family and friends network, and a great mentor with Kerry. That was important."
Now he is one of the most recognisable faces in the New Zealand team. More so after his foray into Cleo magazine's bachelor of the year competition last summer. McClenaghan was labelled New Zealand cricket's new heartthrob as he did the video shoot as Mr February. He did not win but does not look back on the experience with too much embarrassment, more a wry grin.
"It was interesting. It was something to get myself out there and keep myself busy. It was about having a bit of fun. I don't think any publicity is bad publicity and if it gets a few more people through the gates for our summer, then that would be nice."
That seems assured if his form with the ball continues.
He remains injury-free and is a devotee of CrossFit, the core strength and conditioning programme. McClenaghan and two mates have launched their own company which supplies food according to the paleo diet, including cereals, organic coffee, biltong and egg protein.
"It's caveman style eating," he said. He aspires to play test cricket but knows the white ball game is his lot for now. The World Cup in New Zealand and Australia in 2015 is his big goal.
"I want to be part of a World Cup winning team; that's a huge goal of mine. If that means I'm focusing on short form for a while, then so be it. We're starting to get a great group of bowlers, so we have the luxury of branching us out into different formats.
"I'd like to play test cricket one day but there might be bigger fish to fry at the moment."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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