Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Softball: NZ team will use radical ploy

The United States will have two Kiwi pitchers in their side when New Zealand defend the World Series, CHRIS RATTUE reports.

The New Zealand men's softball side are likely to use a radical pitching strategy to compensate for the lack of a figurehead thrower when they defend their World Series title in South Africa.

The national side head for Canada tonight to begin a warm-up tour before the World Series begins in Johannesburg on July 7.

New Zealand have lost the services of Michael White - pitcher of the perfect game in the 1996 grand final win over Canada in Michigan - who with another former New Zealand pitcher, Peter Meredith, will play for the United States.

International softball has altered its regulations so players with dual citizenship must nominate their World Series country three years before the event.

In theory, White could have played for New Zealand last year and still have turned out for the United States at the world event in South Africa.

There were suggestions that clubs pressured the players into being aligned to the United States. New Zealand coach Don Tricker believes money was the motivation for White to switch his allegiance, and that in doing so he would also get a better deal from his club side.

"There are always ways around these things and the fact is Michael and Peter have made those decisions for themselves," said Tricker. "We're not so worried about Peter as he threw for the US at the last World Series.

"But we are disappointed with Michael and it will make us all the more determined.

"You can put forward all sorts of soft excuses, but it was his decision, and we are really looking forward to playing against him. We can't offer some of the things the United States can, but what we have got is good old Kiwi heart, and you can't buy that."

New Zealand will go with three specialist pitchers in Marty Grant, who will be at his third World Series, the American-based Paul Algar and Cantabrian Greg Newton.

Completing the pitching staff is brilliant all-rounder Jarrad Martin, who is also one of the best hitters in the game.

Grant, Algar and Newton rely on the traditional power rise and drop pitching, but Martin has been arguably the best-performed New Zealand pitcher in recent years with his ability to hit spots.

While he does not get a huge number of strikeouts, batters find it difficult to breach the defence of his pitching.

Tricker said that under pitching coach Chubb Tangaroa, New Zealand would look to use up to four pitchers a game in a radical new strategy.

"We haven't got that obvious No 1 pitcher such as Kevin Herlihy and Chubb Tangaroa," said Tricker. "We are going to use our build-up tour to get all of our pitchers used to coming into games.

"All of them are used to starting and finishing games, but we want them to get used to coming in as relief. We will be relying on our combination of pitchers, and they have the ability to get the job done."

Tricker rated the side New Zealand's best-ever hitting team, and was confident of a strong defensive effort based around infielders Dion Nukunuku and Kere Johanson.

With the experience of 32-year-old Mark Sorenson, attending his fifth World Series, and Bevan Martin behind the plate, New Zealand have got all the ingredients for a successful defence. The big question is whether their pitching combination can do the business.

New Zealand: pitchers: Paul Algar, Marty Grant, Greg Newton, Jarrad Martin; catchers: Mark Sorenson (capt), Bevan Martin; infield: Kere Johanson, Dion Nukunuku, Nathan Nukunuku, Dean Rice, Clayton Willocks; outfield: Thomas Makea, Taifau Matai, Dean Jordan, Donny Hale, Darren Rea, Brad Rona. Head coach: Don Tricker; assistant: Eddie Kohlhase; pitching coach: Chubb Tangaroa.

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