Cricket: Fresh faces make impact for Black Caps

By David Leggat, in Mount Maunganui

New Zealand's Tom Bruce celebrates his 50 against Bangladesh. Photo / Photosport
New Zealand's Tom Bruce celebrates his 50 against Bangladesh. Photo / Photosport

After New Zealand's third successive hefty defeat in six days to Australia in Melbourne early last month, coach Mike Hesson indicated there would be changes coming.

He didn't name names, but made it clear a mix of a busy summer ahead, plus players not delivering or others pushing a solid case, meant adjustments were on the cards, and so it has proved.

The arrival of Wellington wicketkeeper Tom Blundell for tomorrow's third and final T20 international against Bangladesh at Bay Oval carries that point on, albeit in unfortunate circumstances.

The only reason Blundell is playing is the groin injury which will sideline Luke Ronchi for the next month. However, it won't have escaped Blundell's attention that he has been shoulder tapped as next in line in the selectors' thinking as the short form wicketkeeper.

The return ODI series with Australia is looming at the end of this month.

Ronchi won't be there, neither, almost certainly, will the out-of-favour BJ Watling.

Blundell has the chance tomorrow to back up a strong T20 season for Wellington and put himself firmly in the frame for the transtasman reckoning.

Still it's been a (half) summer of fresh, and some not so fresh, faces.

Hesson and fellow selector Gavin Larsen flagged their thinking before Australia, when they handed test debuts to opener Jeet Raval and allrounder Colin de Grandhomme against Pakistan to impressive effect.

Lefthander Raval has half centuries in each of his first two tests while de Grandhomme snared a six-wicket bag on the green strip at Hagley Oval on his test debut.

Auckland quick Lockie Ferguson got his chance during the Chappell Hadlee series and while it was a tough introduction, he appears to be a fast learner.

Ronchi's dropping after the tour to India late last year was brief, missing just the Chappell Hadlee series, when BJ Watling was given a chance which he didn't take.

Bangladesh has clearly been seen as a chance for New Zealand to tinker in the short forms.

Experienced offspinner Jeetan Patel was recalled for one ODI on New Year's Eve and his form for Wellington means longer term he has to be in any conversation ahead of the Champions Trophy in mid-year in England.

Left arm seamer Ben Wheeler has made his T20 debut, 16 months after the last of his six ODIs, and has four for 38 in the first two matches against Bangladesh.

George Worker, whose two ODIs and two T20s came in Africa in 2015, remains in the selectors' thinking, and may be a logical opening option tomorrow, with both Neil Broom and now Ronchi out of action.

The recall of 33-year-old Broom proved a boon, with innings of 109 not out and 97 in ODIs against Bangladesh before a fractured finger sidelined him this week.

And finally, welcome in Tom Bruce.

Unluckily run out early on debut in Napier this week, he cashed in on Friday with a bracing unbeaten 59 off 39 balls, sharing a blazing 123-run fourth wicket stand with centurymaker Colin Munro.

On balance it's been a summer of gain so far for the selectors in terms of their picks, especially considering most of those players having years of activity ahead of them.

Australia and South Africa await this season and could knock some aspirations sideways, but still there's been plenty of encouragement for the summers ahead.

- NZ Herald

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