Hamish Bennett, who last played for New Zealand in 2017, has been called up to the T20I squad for the five-match series against India that starts on January 24. Bennett has played one Test and 16 ODIs, with his last match for New Zealand being an ODI against Bangladesh in Dunedin in May 2017.
Bennett, the right-arm medium pacer, is part of a 14-man squad led by Kane Williamson, and is in line to make his T20I debut with regular pacemen Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson still recovering from injury.
Among those also injured, and therefore not considered for selection, were Matt Henry (left thumb), Tom Latham (right pinky), Seth Rance (achilles), Doug Bracewell (knee), Will Young (right shoulder), and Adam Milne (ankle).
Bennett will man the pace department alongside Tim Southee, Blair Tickner, and Scott Kuggeleijn. Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi are the two spinners.
Selector Gavin Larsen said the call-up was just reward for Bennett’s form and perseverance.
“We’re delighted to have Hamish back in the fold for what will be a huge series against India,” Larsen said. “Over the past few seasons he’s consistently been one of the top domestic white-ball bowlers and we’ve been impressed how he’s been able to evolve his game.
“We all know he brings good pace and bounce but it’s the clever variations he’s added that make him such a well-rounded T20 bowler.”
Bennett is currently joint-third highest wicket-taker in this season’s T20 Super Smash, with 14 wickets at an average of 18.42 and an economy rate of 7.06.
Williamson, who missed the T20I series against England in November with a hip injury, is back as is Tom Bruce, who will be part of the squad for the last two games, swapping out with Colin de Grandhomme. Bruce will also lead the New Zealand A side in the one-day series against India A.
The other change from the squad that faced England is allrounder Jimmy Neesham, who missed the final two round-robin games of the Super Smash with an injured quad muscle. Neesham has not been included in this T20I squad, and will instead play for New Zealand A in three one-day matches against India A, starting next week. Daryl Mitchell, meanwhile, kept his place in the squad.
Larsen said the squad had been picked keeping in mind the heavy international schedule and the build-up towards the T20 World Cup that takes place later in the year in Australia.
“The next few weeks will be really intense for our elite male cricketers and we’re fully aware of the challenges ahead,” Larsen said. “We’re clearly wanting to win the series in front of us while also considering our wider ICC T20 World Cup campaign plan.
“We see both Daryl and Jimmy as important allrounders in the T20 format. With a travelling squad of just 13 and the need to balance the options for the series, Daryl gets this opportunity against India as a reward for his consistent form for the Blackcaps.”
The New Zealand A squad also has a number of players with international experience in Todd Astle, Glenn Phillips, Ajaz Patel, George Worker, and Tom Blundell, who will keep wickets, apart from Neesham.
New Zealand T20I squad: Kane Williamson (capt), Hamish Bennett, Tom Bruce (games 4-5), Colin de Grandhomme (games 1-3), Martin Guptill, Scott Kuggeleijn, Daryl Mitchell, Colin Munro, Ross Taylor, Blair Tickner, Mitchell Santner, Tim Seifert (wk), Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee.
New Zealand A squad: Tom Bruce (capt), Todd Astle, Tom Blundell (wk), Mark Chapman, Jacob Duffy, Kyle Jamieson, Cole McConchie, Jimmy Neesham, Ollie Newton, Ajaz Patel, Glenn Phillips, Rachin Ravindra, George Worker.
Ajaz Patel’s return signals an overhaul in New Zealand’s spin plans
The big news in the New Zealand Test squad, apart from the post-injury comeback for Trent Boult, was the return to the arena for 31-year-old left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel in place of Mitchell Santner. It’s a good change, as far as former batting coach Craig McMillan is concerned, because Patel “can pick up four or five wickets in a Test match”. As for Patel, he is just excited at the prospect of facing off against “some of the best in the world”.
“Mitchell Santner, over a period of time, has done a holding role for New Zealand. And that’s down quite often to the conditions in New Zealand that aren’t really conducive to have the ball turning much. It’s the seamers who do all the damage and take most of the wickets,” McMillan, who finished up with the team after the 2019 50-over World Cup, told Radio Sport.
Gary Stead, the New Zealand head coach, had welcomed Patel’s inclusion when the squad was announced, saying, “It’s a slight change in role we’re looking in terms of that position being one where we can take wickets and focus hard on that.”
McMillan liked what he heard from Stead: “It’s good to hear, because Ajaz Patel is better than being just a holding spinner. He’s got over 230 first-class wickets [235 in 62 matches], so he knows how to bowl in New Zealand. So I hope they use him in an attacking role. They need to have a spinner who can pick up four or five wickets in a Test match. And Ajaz Patel is certainly a guy who could do that. So I thought it was encouraging to hear, and it will be interesting to see how they use him, because that’s one of the keys, when you have spinners in your side, it’s the time to use them and how to use them.
“I feel my game’s pretty adaptable. So I’m going to just see what the conditions are and what the scenario and situation is and try to play to that”
“I hope they give him the opportunity to continue bowling how he does at the domestic level at the international level, because I think he can do a really good job, pick up wickets and be really useful in that New Zealand Test side.”
Patel has played only seven Test matches since his debut in 2018, five of them in Asian conditions and only two in New Zealand, where the stress has been on pace with Santner trying to keep things tight without really being much of an attacking option. In the last 12 months, Santner has played one Test in Sri Lanka, two at home against England, and two in Australia, and picked up only five wickets in those games at an average of 96.80. The other spinners in the mix have been Todd Astle, who has since retired from red-ball cricket, and Will Somerville, who both played the New Year’s Test in Sydney on the back of an illness crisis in the squad.
Back in the scheme of things now, Patel is looking forward to going up against Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and the rest of the mighty India batting line-up.
“It’s a fantastic challenge. I suppose as a spinner, testing yourself against some of the best players in the world, it’s a great challenge and it’s something that you should, really, enjoy and cherish,” he said. “At the end of the day, I suppose, at some point in my career, I want to be known as the best in the world. So to be able to challenge some of the best in the world, it’s a great opportunity and a challenge, something that I look forward to.”
Whether he gets that chance or not depends on the Basin Reserve pitch. If it’s green, as McMillan pointed out, “perhaps playing a fourth seamer, which means Kyle Jamieson might get a run”.
Patel understands that. “I suppose it depends on the surface and the scenarios of the game,” he said of the role he expects to play. “Either way, I am going to try and contribute in any way that I can, whether it be with the ball, with the bat, in the field. If it requires me to try and take wickets, then I’m going to try to do that, if it requires me to try and restrict runs, then I’ll try and do that. I feel my game’s pretty adaptable. So I’m going to just see what the conditions are and what the scenario and situation is and try to play to that.
“The Basin could be quite interesting, I suppose. It depends on what kind of day it is and what kind of week you get. If you get a nice, sunny week, the wicket dries up pretty quickly. Although if there’s a bit of overcast conditions, that can be a bit different as well. And obviously you have the wind factor. There’s a lot of things you’ve got to think about at the Basin, but once again, it’s kind of adapting your game to whatever presents itself, and that’s probably one of the great things about Test cricket. You get different challenges thrown at you and you have to learn to adapt.”
What could have gone against Santner, apart from just his own moderate returns, was the fact that even as he picked up just one wicket in two Tests on the December 2019 tour of Australia, Nathan Lyon topped the wicket-takers’ chart with 20 wickets in three Tests, all of which Australia won.
Did that show up Santner, as well as New Zealand’s use with their frontline spinner? “I think it did in many ways,” McMillan agreed. “[Santner’s numbers] sort of stands out in itself, because his core role in the side is to pick up wickets as a spinner, not as a batsman. And he was getting picked in the side to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And New Zealand, with the bowling line-up they’ve got, need a spinner who can contribute four or five wickets a Test match, which just takes some pressure off the likes of [Tim] Southee, [Neil] Wagner and Boult.”
Dimitri Mascarenhas signs two-year deal with Middlesex as T20 bowling coach
Dimitri Mascarenhas has signed a two-year deal to stay on as Middlesex’s specialist T20 bowling coach.
Mascarenhas, whose arrival at the county last summer coincided with an upturn in results in short-form cricket, has held several coaching roles since his retirement from the game in 2014, including stints with New Zealand, Otago, Melbourne Renegades and Otago.
He will also be an assistant coach to Shane Warne in the Hundred next season, staying at Lord’s alongside Eoin Morgan following the Blast to work with London Spirit.
“Dimi’s laid back, calm persona is a great asset and his coaching style reflects this trait,” said Stuart Law, Middlesex’s director of cricket.
“He has simple methods that resonate well with the boys and allows the players to grow, while guiding them through. We’re really looking forward to working with Dimi again during the T20 Blast campaign this season.”
Middlesex reached the knock-out stages of the Blast for only the second time since winning the competition in 2008 last season, with their five-man bowling attack coming to the fore.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman has signed to return as an overseas player, while the Cricketer magazine has reported that Law hopes to sign an allrounder alongside him, with Mitchell Marsh one possible target. AB de Villiers is unlikely to return, with the Blast directly following the IPL season and workload management a concern ahead of a potential international comeback in time for the T20 World Cup.
“I loved my time last year and felt we made some progress on the bowling front and as a team,” said Mascarenhas. “The opportunity to work with Stu Law and Nic Pothas, two international-level coaches, is extremely exciting and brilliant for my development.
“The squad is very similar to last season and I’m sure we can make a huge play for the finals again. I can’t wait to join up with the squad and continue what we started last year.”
Michael Hussey hopes to keep Australia mentoring role through to T20 World Cup
Michael Hussey is hopeful that his stint with Australia’s T20 team will continue throughout their preparation for the World Cup in October, and into the tournament itself.
Justin Langer has made a point of using former players as backroom staff, often bringing them in for a series at a time on an informal basis. Hussey linked up with the squad ahead of their T20I series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the home summer, and has travelled to South Africa with them in a flexible role.
“I’m hoping to stay involve with the T20 team leading up to and through the World Cup,” Hussey said. “It’s a fantastic environment. I really like the guys: they work so hard, and there’s a lot of excitement around the team with that T20 World Cup on our own doorstep and not too far away.
“They’re really focused and driven to do well, and motivated to try and put in good performances to be in that squad and have a chance of winning the World Cup.
“I’m not exactly sure what [my] title is, whether it’s mentor, batting coach, or whatever. But I don’t really mind, I just want to get in there and help out however I can, and throw a lot of balls, I guess.”
Hussey filled a similar role at the last T20 World Cup, where he was hired as a consultant, and his short-form coaching experience also includes the batting coach job at Chennai Super Kings as well as a role as director of cricket at Sydney Thunder.
Australia have placed a greater focus on role clarity among their batsmen in the current cycle of T20I cricket, after their 2016 World T20 campaign turned into something of a debacle. With a coterie of top-order batsmen in their squad, David Warner was used at No. 3 or 4, and Shane Watson shifted down from opener to finisher three matches into the tournament.
“I’m rapt that [Matthew Wade] has got an opportunity and I really hope he can cement his place in that middle order, because he’s playing brilliantly well at the moment”
But partly thanks to Alex Carey‘s emergence, this year looks to be different, with Warner, Aaron Finch and Steven Smith emerging as the first-choice top three and Carey, Glenn Maxwell and one other batsman likely to form No. 4-6. Maxwell’s injury means there will likely be opportunities for Matthew Wade and Mitchell Marsh in the middle order, with the No. 7 spot filled by a bowling allrounder – either Ashton Agar or Sean Abbott.
Wade has been used exclusively as an opener in recent years by the Hobart Hurricanes, but is seen as a versatile option, not least with his ability as a back-up wicketkeeper. He has a good record against spin (139.2 strike rate, 76.00 average) over the last two Big Bash seasons, and Hussey backed him to make the most of his middle-order opportunity.
“I’ve been more focusing on the middle-order guys,” said Hussey, who spent 21 of his 30 T20I innings batting between No. 4 and No. 7 and played one of the great innings by a finisher in the semi-final of the 2010 World T20.
“I played with Matty Wade, but I really like the place he’s in at the moment with his game – he has a great understanding of his game now, and he also has perspective on life and the game as well. It’s not the be-all and end-all, although it’s still very important to him.
“So I’m rapt that he’s got an opportunity and I really hope he can take his opportunity and cement his place in that middle order, because he’s playing brilliantly well at the moment. I get on well with all the guys – Alex Carey, and Mitch Marsh [who] I obviously know quite well from WA.”
Conditions in South Africa are likely to be alien, with the series starting at altitude in Johannesburg on Friday night, but Hussey said that Australia should be able to adapt. He also suggested that in the World Cup, Australia hold something of an edge due to their knowledge of local conditions, and the side’s ability to manipulate ground dimensions to their advantage.
“The boys were a bit tired from yesterday’s session, just getting used to the altitude. It’s obviously something we don’t have to contend with back in Australia. It is different, and for a number of guys it’s their first time here, so it’s a great experience for them.
“You’ve got to try and adapt, and there might be different ways to score your 10 or 12 runs an over. It’s certainly a focus in our team, the running between the wickets, and that’s something this team really prides themselves on, particularly Davey and Steven Smith, Glenn Maxwell when he’s playing – they’re brilliant runners between the wicket.
“I think there’s a balance, certainly with the big grounds – it’s not easy to just stand there and smash it out of the park. Without doubt, I think it’s certainly going to be a point of difference. But I don’t want to give away too many secrets leading into the World Cup.”
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