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Cricket: The Black Caps' potential difference maker

Ish Sodhi. Photo / Alan Gibson
Ish Sodhi. Photo / Alan Gibson

Ish Sodhi could be New Zealand Cricket's most important development project this year.

Since Daniel Vettori's retirement, no spinner has commanded a permanent spot in the starting XI across each format.

Mark Craig had an influential run in tests until struggling against Australia this summer; Mitchell Santner shapes as a promising all-rounder with the emphasis on bat more than ball; Todd Astle looks capable of a resurgence with domestic form earning him a recall to the T20 side over summer and Nathan McCullum is about to retire.

With 2015 Wisden cricketer of the year Jeetan Patel contracted to Warwickshire, none of that quartet's abilities have provided a compelling argument for spin alone to sustain a place across test and limited-over fixtures.

Sodhi could be the point of difference.

The 23-year-old spins the ball both ways using his stock ball and a camouflaged googly and he's also a useful lower-order batsman.

New Zealand have an October test tour scheduled in India against some of the world's best spin combatants. Sodhi's guile appears essential if this country is to end the 60-year search for a test series win.

Similarly, a reliable spinner would be welcome as New Zealand seek to end their 62-year pursuit of a test series win against South Africa in July.

Sodhi's record of 27 wickets at an average of 52.81 requires selectorial and fan imagination and perseverance, but anyone watching him live knows those statistics are deceptive in relation to his potential.

His T20 record is also promising. Heading into the World T20 - which starts early tomorrow when New Zealand take on hosts India - he had six wickets, striking every 17 balls with an economy rate of 7.41.

When Sodhi gets it right, and he synchronises his rhythm, loop and speed, batsmen are flies in his spider's web.

One example was a candidate for best ball bowled by a New Zealand leg-spinner to clip the top of Azhar Ali's off stump in the first test against Pakistan at Abu Dhabi in 2014.

Admittedly Ali was on 87, but Sodhi pitched on leg and hit the top of off-stump as the in-form batsman was bamboozled going back to defend.

Leg spin, however, is a tricky art to master. The force needed to generate turn can diminish accuracy. In a game of centimetres, surgeon-like nerves are paramount when tweaking via the wrist rather than the off-spinner's fingers.

Since the country's best exponent Jack Alabaster eked out 49 wickets in 21 tests between 1955 and 1972, Kiwi leg-spinners have been rare. Between Alabaster and Sodhi, only Greg Loveridge, Brooke Walker and Astle were selected for tests with that skill in mind.

Sodhi possesses an attacking mindset which New Zealand will need to impact overseas, particularly on the subcontinent. If he can eliminate the four-balls that release pressure each over, Sodhi will become a regular force.

- NZ Herald

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