New Zealand's cricketers swagger into Hamilton with their World Cup blueprint fast taking shape but one burning question: what to do with Adam Milne?
After dominant wins over an injury-hit West Indies in Queenstown and Nelson, New Zealand are at short odds to clinch the one-day international series 3-1 in Wednesday's Seddon Park finale under lights.
A series victory would be their third in the past year, after those in South Africa and England, and would edge them ahead of the tourists to seventh on the world ODI rankings.
The 58-run win at Saxton Oval, via the Duckworth-Lewis method after rain doused a shaky West Indies pursuit of 286, highlighted an embarrassment of riches for the hosts.
With Tim Southee back it was New Zealand's strongest available side, and their best ODI 11 in recent memory. It also meant no room for allrounder Jimmy Neesham, nor Milne, the 21-year-old fast bowler.
Milne is a special World Cup project for coach and chief selector Mike Hesson, who retained him in the ODI squad before releasing him yesterday to play Twenty20 for Central Districts.
Circumstances haven't allowed a worthwhile look at him this series. Milne was set to play in Napier before rain intervened, then bowled two late overs in the 21-over slog in Queenstown before Southee's return edged him out in Nelson.
Captain Brendon McCullum said Milne would be considered for Hamilton if the pitch looked to have some pace. He also backed the youngster who has just one wicket from six ODIs, but offers 140kmh-plus pace as his point of difference.
"He's an exciting player and he bowls fast and he's certainly a better bowler now than a couple of years ago when he got his first opportunity," McCullum said.
"He's got a huge future for us, it's just a matter of getting him some opportunities between now and that World Cup so he goes in with a bit of experience. He's got the aggression, given the right conditions. He's going to leak a few runs but if he's on he can take wickets as well."
If the Seddon Park pitch appears its usual sluggish self, then New Zealand will be unchanged to try and clinch the series.
With Jesse Ryder in form and giving the innings a flying start, and Southee taking the new ball, it looked much like the 11 they could field in the World Cup opener against Sri Lanka in Christchurch in February next year. Veteran spinner Daniel Vettori, who is playing T20 in Australia and yet to confirm his availability for India, is the only other automatic choice.
McCullum was overjoyed with the clinical victory in Nelson after they posted 285-6, which he rated 30-40 runs above par. On a two-paced pitch after heavy rain in the leadup, batsmen struggled for timing but the top-four set the platform and the skipper strode in at 232-4 in the 45th.
Rather than bludgeon at the death as they did on a Queenstown belter, McCullum said it was more "killing them softly", as just five sixes were hit, the last from Corey Anderson getting the biggest cheer.
The World Cup might be 13 months away, and a tough five-match series against India just around the corner, but the blueprint is taking shape for McCullum.
"You don't want to take your eye off the ball and we need to be performing and winning games to ensure that all of us are there at the World Cup and justifying our places.
"But we're starting to see some combinations and the makings of a team that has the ability to be on that bus at the World Cup. It's encouraging, we've got some good depth and our bench [on Saturday] was very strong. If we win the series 3-1 after losing that first game, it would be pretty satisfying."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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