Pressure is on Luke Ronchi to lock up his spot

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 31/12/2013
Luke Ronchi
GARETH COPLEY/ Getty
GLOVE MAN: Luke Ronchi.

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Luke Ronchi insists on living in the now, but as the New Year dawns in idyllic Queenstown it's hard to escape how significant January is for his international cricketing future.

Maintain his high standards with the wicketkeeping gloves and bludgeon some quickfire, even matchwinning runs for New Zealand in eight one-day internationals against West Indies and India, and the 2015 World Cup gig is essentially his.

Not that Ronchi's crystal ball extends anywhere near Christchurch's Hagley Oval on February 14, 2015, and the tournament opener against Sri Lanka.

"I haven't played enough international cricket [15 ODIs and five T20s] to think if I look a year in advance, where I could be. I just make the most of every opportunity and hopefully perform when I need to perform and continue on from that.

"If I think too far ahead it's all going to go horrendously wrong," he said, as the hosts packed up from a rain-drenched McLean Park and travelled to Queenstown 1-0 down with three to play against West Indies.

Coach Mike Hesson's declaration that captain Brendon McCullum wouldn't don the gloves again due to his back injury handed Ronchi the job to lose. But it came with a qualifier from selector Bruce Edgar, that test gloveman BJ Watling was pushing hard for a return to ODI colours.

Ronchi shades the hard-working Watling on glovework, and has him covered on batting strike rate. It would require a significant slump from Ronchi and a Watling transformation from run-a-ball accumulator into boundary-clearer to elicit a change in the selectors' thinking.

Still, Ronchi needs runs in black, now ensconced in his preferred role at seven after those opening woes in England. He scored 49 and 23 in two ODI innings in Sri Lanka, then on his home debut in Auckland on Boxing Day scored seven before picking out the boundary rider in a poor dismissal. Not that he was alone there.

It's Ronchi's much-trumpeted strike rate - which reaped him a 22-ball ODI half-century for Australia against West Indies in 2008 - that could be the making, or breaking of him.

"Domestically [for Wellington] I'm feeling good, I'm not making big scores but only had five opportunities to bat, and in different situations. I've just got to rein myself in when I get going. I've been scoring at a pretty quick rate, so if I can pull that back a little bit more, big scores could be on cards.

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"The way I'm batting at the moment I'm just trying to play straight and whatever comes of short stuff or width just happens. That feels really good."

Ronchi said discussions with coach Mike Hesson in Sri Lanka eased his mind and boosted his confidence, that he simply needed to relax and play his natural game and not go crazy.

The 32-year-old from Dannevirke, by way of Perth where he honed his game alongside the gifted Adam Gilchrist, could be forgiven for being slightly edgy, along with his team-mates, on arrival in the holiday hub for tomorrow's third ODI.

All they wanted was to rid the memory of their Auckland collapse for 157, but the chance to repair their confidence on a McLean Park belter was foiled by rain and a slow-drying outfield.

Now, with fast bowler Tim Southee boosting the squad to 14, they need to win all three in Queenstown, Nelson on Saturday and Hamilton on January 8 to clinch the series, whilst the rejuvenated West Indies remain high on confidence under ODI skipper Dwayne Bravo.

Frustratingly, the weather may not have had its final say. Rain fell in Queenstown yesterday, more is forecast for today, and tomorrow's forecast is for occasional showers and a maximum of 18degC.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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