Astle's roundabout path to a Black Caps call

ON HIS WAY: Canterbury Wizard Todd Astle packs his bags for Sri Lanka.
ON HIS WAY: Canterbury Wizard Todd Astle packs his bags for Sri Lanka.

When Todd Astle was last in Sri Lanka - in 2006 with the New Zealand under-19 side - there were plenty who thought he had the goods to be a future Black Cap.

Six years on and today he leaves for Sri Lanka on his first tour with the national side, but the path he took to get there has been an odd one.

Astle was one of the stars of an underperforming under-19 side at the 2006 World Cup and was the tournament's third top run scorer.

He was a gritty opening batsman and didn't bowl a ball at the tournament.

But as he travels to the sub-continental island, Astle does so as the Black Caps' second spinner.

His batting that, ironically, has been brilliant this season, is now his back-up trade, and it's Astle's legspin bowling that earned him the call-up.

The selection vindicates Astle's transformation.

After debuting for Canterbury in 2005 - and picking up a first-baller in the second innings - Astle the batsmen never really found his feet.

He was dropped from the Canterbury side in 2009, but came back into the side as a mid-game replacement for Chris Martin.

After blasting quick runs in that match, the then part-time bowler took his first five-wicket bag to help Canterbury beat Otago.

"Then I got another five-wicket bag in the next game and six in the next, but then it was the end of the season," Astle said.

He started the next season down the order and as the side's premier spinner. That season he was the Plunket Shield's second highest wicket taker behind Neil Wagner.

Under instruction from Canterbury and New Zealand coaches, he's now changed how he bats and his new aggressive, counter-attack approach is paying dividends.

He scored 95 and 78 in Canterbury's opening round Plunket Shield loss and 81 in club cricket last weekend.

Should he play, Astle will be expected to add some much needed vigour to the Black Caps middle to lower order in the absence of the injured Daniel Vettori.

A month after being picked in the test squad, he's still just as excited.

"I can't wait to get there and get involved. I've had a few weeks for it to sink in now, but I'm really looking forward to getting over there and soaking it all up."

Astle knows he's no guarantee to play in the two tests, though with turning pitches expected and the fact he adds plenty with the bat, a test debut could well be on the cards.

Either way, this tour is about learning as much as he can, he said.

Astle took just a wicket in each innings of his one first class match this season, but said the 36 overs he bowled was just what he needed ahead of the two-test Sri Lankan tour.

With no Vettori and Jeetan Patel in the form of his career, Astle knows this could be a rare chance at the top, but there's no self-imposed pressure to perform and none from Black Caps coach Mike Hesson or his assistant Bob Carter either.

"I've spoken to Hess and Bob and they've been really good, they've just told me to make sure I enjoy myself and learn as much as I can," Astle said.

That's what he's been doing in first-class cricket and it's been paying off, though Sri Lanka and their talented batting lineup will no doubt make life hard for the new boy.

The Press