Ish Sodhi shapes as a key performer in conditions likely to favour spin when the Black Caps' T20 World Cup campaign starts in the UAE next week.
It has been a strange and ever-changing journey to the tournament for the Indian-born, south Auckland raised leg spin bowler.
Covid prevented him taking up a brief management role with IPL team the Rajasthan Royals this year.
His preparation instead included a quick hit mission at English club Worcestershire, six days in Pakistan quarantine before the Black Caps tour was abandoned, and the unexpected chance to be a hands-on dad during a month in lockdown with wife Ange and 16-month-old daughter Dahlia at the family's Christchurch home.
The 28-year-old Sodhi chats from Dubai about the Black Caps' World Cup chances, the legendary Shane Warne's secret ingredient, Pakistan's anger, the lonely life of a legspinner, the school teachers who saved him, the delivery which drives him mad, his top tips for kids, and more.
How is life in the bubble?
Fortunately, we've been able to get all our team on one hotel floor…tour life can be a lonely place anyway and it's been magnified by this. But the tight and restrictive bubbles are vital - if a couple of Covid cases get into the tournament it will be hard to control. A couple of the lads have got these brilliant coffee machines…we're trying to find ways of making it like normal touring life but it is challenging.
Do the players feel there is a tournament favourite?
I saw something on TV saying the West Indies are the ninth ranked T20 team in the world yet I look at their squad and think 'wow'…match winners, great firepower, great bowlers, huge experience. It's anyone's tournament.
Many of the pitches have been used a lot during the second leg of the IPL so it will be interesting to see if they are tired or have been brought back to life with more pace. Then it will be about the teams which adapt to the conditions the best.
Has New Zealand's world test championship triumph boosted team confidence in any way?
It has got to send waves of belief through the group. It has been a very consistent period across all formats for New Zealand, and we have some of the greatest cricketers the country has ever produced. To see the way they set the standards, take on high pressure situations, lead from the front…and the way they keep coming back for more. It's a really cool environment to be part of.
Former Pakistani players such as Shoaib Akhtar slammed the Black Caps for quitting the tour. Will it add spice to your opening T20 clash?
I have a lot of sympathy for the Pakistan fans and players - they were really looking forward to playing in their home conditions.
We forged a close relationship with the security staff and as I speak Punjabi, which is similar to the Pakistani language of Urdu, they shared how upset they were.
Social media can be a bit niggly and people are showing their frustration on a mass scale. We would have loved to play. But we had the utmost trust in our security measures.
Pakistan are a very tough side anyway. No team knows the UAE conditions like they do - they've made it a fortress. If all this stuff adds to the atmosphere and the event for the public, that's fine.
Pundits say it should be a good tournament for spinners…
There is a natural tendency in these conditions to think it will favour spin, and I hope it does. But I'm surprised at the impact seam bowling has here in the IPL…bowling low and skiddy, making it really difficult to hit the ball off a length.
How much have you had to adapt your bowling for the modern game?
This is a conversation I have with (fellow Black Caps legspinner) Todd Astle. We grew up in the era of Shane Warne, Stuart MacGill - they bowled with nice loop and drift and dip.
For a long time I thought that was the way forward in all conditions, but even during my short career T20 has changed so much.
The batsmen have got a lot more aggressive, their overall intent has changed, the wickets are a lot better, the grounds a lot smaller.
The trap is you want to bowl beautiful delivers. But you just can't bowl deliveries that are too full anymore.
You've met the great Shane Warne - did he give you any leg spin tips?
I didn't have a huge chance to bowl with him in the nets, but he was big on encouragement. If you bowled a good ball he'd pump up your tyres, made you feel like you could take on the world.
New Zealand spin bowlers need a huge degree of self-sufficiency. To have that support is important - we don't have a huge amount of leg spin coaching out there.
Do kids ask you for advice?
As I've got older, social media has become a huge tool. I still learn things off YouTube.
Social media has its faults, but it can be fantastic. I would love to have had that accessibility when I was young.
The most common question from young leg spinners is how to get more accurate. Just pick a spot, bowl at it for three hours, and see how often you hit it.
Stick with the art, spin the ball hard, and build resilience. With leg spin, some days can be great, and some can go awfully wrong.
Did you ever have another career in mind?
Subconsciously I always thought I could make a career out of cricket. I was working in a grocery store pushing trolleys in the alley ways of Papatoetoe late at night, which wasn't really cutting it for a young man.
At a point I thought my cricket was going nowhere I made the New Zealand under-19 side. Then I was offered a Northern Districts contract…that was the big move for me, and enabled me to live out my dream.
I had always wanted to be a teacher because I felt it was a place where you could have a great impact on youth, probably because I had a few really influential teachers in my life.
Who were those teachers - what did they do?
There was a socials studies teacher, and also Mrs Kidd, my history teacher at Papatoetoe High, a wonderful lady.
She was really encouraging, really kind. You wanted to learn because someone pushed you in a really positive way. She was an older teacher and I was a rough 15 or 16-year-old with rat tail hair - but she made me feel like I had something to offer.
You don't have a huge amount of those influences in South Auckland. Those teachers can make a huge difference with a couple of pats on the back or words of encouragement. At the time they don't realise the influence they can have. Teaching is still an option for me.
What are your major cricket goals?
I don't have any specific goals - just to keep getting better. Test cricket is still the ultimate and I'd love to get back in the side. I feel I've got a lot more skills and resilience now. The majority of my test career was played before I was 22.
It must be frustrating, being denied the chance to bowl on a day five wicket.
There's still a bit of romance attached to that as a spinner - although on some New Zealand pitches you could be playing until day eight and they still wouldn't be spinning.
Final question…Shane Warne loved to promote his latest killer delivery discovery. What are you working on?
What I'm really working on is my pace and energy. At my height, if I loop the ball up too much, it ends up too full in T20.
But I've always wanted to bowl a good flipper. I've had a love-hate relationship with the flipper which has always been documented as the hardest ball to bowl in cricket.
It is terribly difficult to bowl - getting the ball to spin backwards, so it hits the deck and stays low. Your timing has to be so bang on. It is very tough on your shoulder and difficult to control.
I built up my courage to bowl it a few times against Australia last year. That was a huge step forward. I bowled a few good ones but a full toss as well unfortunately.
Shane Warne talks about clicking your fingers to bowl it. The problem is Warnie made everything look so easy. He was a freak of nature - the best leg spinner who has ever walked the face of the earth.