Scrutiny on Black Caps as contracts at stake
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson is willing to cut Luke Ronchi some slack and says his best batting spot remains at the top of the order in one-day cricket.
Ronchi, Kane Williamson and injured pair Daniel Vettori and Grant Elliott jet home today after New Zealand's exit from the Champions Trophy as Hamish Rutherford, Tom Latham and Ronnie Hira come in for the two Twenty20 internationals against England at The Oval on Wednesday and Friday next week (NZT).
Former Australian international Ronchi found it tough at the top with 47 runs from his first six ODIs for New Zealand, having been a middle order regular for Wellington and excellent gloveman. Hesson, who sits down in the next week to nut out the 20 New Zealand Cricket contracted players, was in a forgiving mood.
"We'll review things with Luke. We picked him as an opener to play that aggressive role. Luke's had most of his success in four-day cricket back home in the middle order. In one-day and T20 cricket in the middle he didn't set the world alight but certainly showed some ability when he did bat at the top in terms of that destructive nature," Hesson said.
"Luke is certainly a player that we like, in terms of how he goes about things. No doubt he's had a tough start but we pick players because we think they've got qualities that will serve them well over a period of time."
Rutherford and Latham could push their cases for the ODI opener's spot but Ronchi is a good fit with the gloves and allows Brendon McCullum more rein in the field where he dominates the inner circle.
Hesson's not one to get carried away, but all-rounder Corey Anderson got a big tick from the coach which suggests he may be one of the lucky 20 announced early next month. The hard-hitting Anderson made a promising ODI debut in Cardiff and stays on for the T20s. He could also become a test prospect if he stays injury-free.
"Corey's an exciting player. We introduced him in South Africa and we liked what we saw there. He's got the capability of bowling up to 140kmh when he gets it right. He's struggled to stay in the park so we haven't pushed him too hard with his bowling but he's certainly got some real potential there. As a ball striker he's one of the cleanest we have in our team and we're excited to see how he goes in the T20s."
Another big find in recent months, Mitchell McClenaghan, is also seen as a test prospect and will probably get a New Zealand A tour to India in September to get some miles in the legs after a stunning start to his ODI career.
Hesson and national selection manager Kim Littlejohn rank the top-20 players in order and they are paid annual retainers accordingly, starting on August 1. Hesson said the structure remains rigid in terms of ranking players, with test performances given double the weighting of ODIs and T20s.
The coach admitted concern over Vettori and said there were some serious medical discussions to be had. Vettori was a huge asset in the UK but struggled through with an Achilles tendon problem that's hampered him for nearly a year. If he's to continue playing international cricket there needs to be some progress.
"We've got to do some further examination on that Achilles and see what we can do to make it easier. He did very well in the tournament but there's no doubt he struggled through it so that's not going to be a sustainable option the way it is at the moment.
"Over the next period of time we've got to make that assessment as does Dan and work out what we look to do."
His team's early exit was annoying and a missed opportunity, but reflected the cut-throat nature of the Champions Trophy, Hesson said. "It's such a congested tournament. We won a tight one, we lost a tight one and we had a no result. It's not a huge amount of cricket to reflect on."
Batting and fielding continue to be the concerns. The top-order folded twice in Cardiff, in tricky conditions against Sri Lanka and England, with Williamson the only one to stand up. And the fielding fluctuated wildly.
Hesson said he was happy with the coaching team of himself, Bob Carter (batting) and Shane Bond (bowling).
With the batting and fielding inconsistencies, Carter's role comes under scrutiny but Hesson backed him and said he was contracted to the 2015 World Cup.
But he didn't rule out bringing in specialist coaches for the team's next assignment, to Bangladesh in October.
"It's something we look at after every tour in terms of what we've got covered. I think Bob Carter is a very good batting coach and he's proved that over a long period of time. We'll look at what options we have and whether we bring certain people in, a fielding specialist of a spin bowling specialist when we tour the subcontinent.
"We're certainly not closed in terms of who we involve in our support staff, that's something we discuss with the players as well and make sure they've got the support they need. But I'm very pleased with the group at the moment."