International callup big leap for young Firebird

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 28/01/2014

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As club cricket sledges go, this is hard to beat.

With Henry Walsh starting to look set, for Taita against Eastern Suburbs on Saturday, Ili Tugaga suddenly remembered something he'd been told the day before.

It wasn't embarrassing and didn't involve abuse. It was actually some good news that no-one had got round to telling Walsh.

So, on his follow-through, Tugaga decided to give it to him.

"Hey, Henry. We're playing against India next week."

And it worked a treat.

"He didn't believe me at first. I told him while he was batting to put him off and then I got him out, which was good," a laughing Tugaga recalled yesterday.

It's little wonder Walsh was stunned. The 20-year-old batsman might be one of Wellington cricket's big up and comers, but that wouldn't ordinarily earn you selection in a New Zealand XI to meet a touring international side.

But with New Zealand Cricket opting to field a fledgling XI against India at Whangarei, in a two-day match starting Saturday, it's meant a callup for Walsh, alongside fellow Wellington squad members Tugaga and Iain McPeake.

"I'll be nervous. Just look at the names and all the guys you've seen on TV so many times before. It's the spin factor that's a real worry," Walsh said.

That's right. Club cricket throws up plenty of characters, like Tugaga, but not too many blokes who spin the ball both ways.

Walsh has played seven Twenty20 games for Wellington, but is yet to make a first-class appearance and, along with McPeake, he's basically jumping all the way from club cricket and onto the international stage.

"Oh yeah, it'll be a different experience," McPeake said.

Once a national age-group hockey representative, McPeake hasn't had a look in at any level of cricket for the Firebirds. The quick bowler's hopes for the summer were to maybe get a game in the Plunket Shield and the standard of these batsmen will be like nothing he's seen before.

"It'll be good to see how far off I am. Instead of sitting there thinking 'I can do it' this'll actually be a great way to know and to just see the difference between domestic stuff and international," McPeake said.

The 22 first-class games Tugaga's played will just about make him the most experienced player in the New Zealand XI side.

Like the rest of us, he's been watching the one-day international series between New Zealand and India, where the Black Caps have clearly decided the tourists don't fancy the short ball.

Tugaga is sharp, without being express, leading you to wonder whether he'll be brave enough to bounce the Indians.

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"We'll see how it goes and how the pitch plays. If it's a nice hard one, then I'll try and get some up them," he said.

Before that, the trio will be in the Wellington A team which meets Tasmania A in a three-day match, starting today. Cricket Wellington was vague on details but it's understood former Australian opening batsmen Ed Cowan will be playing for Tasmania.

Not involved in the Big Bash Twenty20 competition, Cowan is reportedly here for some practice ahead of the resumption of Australia's Sheffield Shield.

- Fairfax Media

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