Black Caps' focus shifts to world T20s

By David Leggat in Mt Maunganui

Nathan McCullum is set to lead the charge for the New Zealand spinners at the World T20. Photo / Christine Cornege.
Nathan McCullum is set to lead the charge for the New Zealand spinners at the World T20. Photo / Christine Cornege.

It may still be fuzzy around the edges to New Zealand eyes right now, but the focus on the world T20 tournament in March will sharpen for the players this week.

The sixth edition of the event is in India in March and New Zealand have five games on home turf to prepare for a tilt at winning the title for the first time.

After finishing their ODI rubber against Sri Lanka at Bay Oval tomorrow, they have two T20s to round off that tour, again in Mt Maunganui on Thursday and at Eden Park on Sunday. Then Pakistan start their six-game visit with three more T20s, beginning at Eden Park on Friday, January 15.

New Zealand's selectors Mike Hesson and Gavin Larsen have shown their early hand with a squad for the two Sri Lankan games, but selection for the Indian trip is far from finalised.

It is, however, at least an early indication and for some, a case of first dibs.

The presence of legspinner Ish Sodhi is intriguing. Spin is sure to be a significant factor in India. Indeed seven of the 10 top-ranked T20 bowlers are spinners.

No 1-ranked West Indian Sunil Narine is getting over another suspension for a suspect action, but the likes of teammate Samuel Badree (No 2), Sri Lankan Sachithra Senanayake (No 3), Indian Ravi Ashwin (No 5), Pakistan's Shahid Afridi (No 6), New Zealand's Nathan McCullum (No 8) and South African Imran Tahir (No 9) amply illustrates the importance of the slow men.

Assistant coach Craig McMillan is intrigued by what Sodhi could offer in India, but said it's up to a range of players to put their hands up. Timing is important.

"We've got some very good ones within our group and good variety in terms of off, left arm and leg spin.

"There's just something special about a legspinner. It's harder for batsmen to read, more variations and I think harder to get hold of than a conventional left-arm or offspinner and I'm looking forward to seeing how he performs."

Sodhi has played just four T20 internationals, two in the Caribbean in July 2014, and two in Africa last August. His returns there were interesting, one for 15 off four overs against Zimbabwe in Harare followed by two for 27 against the South Africans at Centurion as part of a 32-run win.

New Zealand will take 15 players to India, where they have group games against the hosts at Nagpur, Australia at Dharamsala, Pakistan at Chennai and most likely either Bangladesh or Ireland at Kolkata.

If he's fit, McCullum is a good chance, given his record and reputation. Others in the frame would include Canterbury pair legspinner Todd Astle, a steady performer and handy batsman, and Ronnie Hira, a left-arm spinner, and vastly improved batsman from his Auckland days; or Northern Districts' Anton Devcich.

"Really it would come down to performances in those T20s against Sri Lanka and Pakistan," McMillan said.

- NZ Herald

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