The start of the Cricket World Cup is still months away, but with their ODI summer schedule done and dusted, the Black Caps have almost locked in their 15-man squad for the pinnacle event.
"It's pretty close," said Black Caps head coach Gary Stead. "There's still a couple of months of cricket left before we actually have to finalise the team and you never know what can happen with injuries. But we're pretty close to what we want."
Seventeen players have been given a run in ODIs in 2019 for the Black Caps, and making the assumption that the selection panel wouldn't pick an uncapped player at the Cup, by one count, that leaves 19 contenders in the mix for the 15 spots.
Ten of those players are absolute certainties to be on the plane to the United Kingdom, if fit. Martin Guptill, Henry Nicholls, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Tom Latham, Jimmy Neesham, Mitchell Santner, Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult, and Tim Southee will all be named in the squad come April, with all bar perhaps Southee in the first choice XI.
That leaves nine players vying for the final five spots – here's how the final decisions could stack up.
10 wickets at 34.4, RPO of 5.3
After struggling against Sri Lanka, Henry performed splendidly with the new ball against India and Bangladesh. He should probably take the new ball alongside Boult in the UK, but if selectors opt for Southee, there is the slightest of chances the fourth seamer position goes elsewhere – possibly to Doug Bracewell - in a quest for lineup balance. That is highly unlikely though, and would be a shock if Henry was left out.
Colin de Grandhomme
2019 stats: 51 runs at 25.5, SR of 164; 5 wickets at 36.6, RPO of 4.7
De Grandhomme has probably just done enough in various cameos. His three-wicket support act to Boult's bonanza against India showed his value on seam-friendly wickets, and his 37 from 15 balls on Wednesday supplemented his Twenty20 knocks against India to remind everyone of his immense power. Suggestions he's a flat-track bully probably have some merit, and he's not the man for the job if the top order fails, but it would be a surprise to not see him amongst the 15.
199 runs at 24.9, SR of 105
Admit it, that average is higher than you thought it would be, but there would probably be a riot if Munro opened in the World Cup opener. Yet, as a squad player, Munro still has immense value – and is possibly best utilised as a middle-order hitter, who could potentially send down some overs in the right conditions. Add in his status as emergency cover in case of a top order injury, and there's enough versatility for the polarising plunderer to be a worthy squad option.
Sodhi 8 wickets at 30.5, RPO of 5.3, Astle 3 wickets at 32, RPO of 5.6
The strangest subplot of the summer. Astle was picked for the Bangladesh series because the selectors wanted to see more of him after recovering from a knee injury, then, they picked him to play in just one of the three ODIs. There are various theories that the selectors have already pencilled him into their squad and wanted to protect him, and while Astle offers more with the bat, Sodhi has higher upside with the ball. Sodhi was genuinely excellent against Sri Lanka, bowled well in one of his two ODIs against India, and would be ruing not getting the chance to show his worth against Bangladesh. Sodhi should get the edge, but considering how this battle has played out, it's too hard to call.
2019 stats: 33 runs at 16.5, SR of 122
While Seifert didn't shine when given an ODI opportunity against Sri Lanka, he produced some exceptionally well-timed Twenty20 knocks against India to show his potential. Any World Cup wicket-keeping and batting cover would need to be versatile and destructive, and Seifert ticks both boxes, something the other specialist keepers do not. He could step into the middle or top order at short notice and be trusted to perform – and if the selectors are sour on using Henry Nicholls as the back-up wicketkeeper, then Seifert will be the man for the job.
79 runs at 26.3, SR of 100; 1 wicket at 131, RPO of 5.7
Bracewell showed enough with the bat, but not nearly enough with the ball. The only thing that may earn him selection would be his versatility – at a pinch he could open the bowling, and (also at a pinch) he could operate as a middle-order all-rounder. However, he's probably not quite compelling enough in any one facet to get the nod.
2019 stats: N/A
Better than de Grandhomme on his day, Anderson is the type of batsman who can be devastatingly destructive, but also build an innings if coming to the crease with the Black Caps in trouble. His "Golden Arm" status is now years from being relevant, but of all the all-rounders, he would be the best wicket-taking threat at his peak. The problem of course is injuries, and his unfortunate timing means he can only prove himself in Twenty20 and four-day cricket. A worthy roll of the dice if an all-rounder goes down injured.
2019 stats: N/A
He has the pedigree, and has looked genuinely excellent on his return to domestic cricket with Central Districts. Unfortunately, like Anderson, he hasn't been able to prove himself in the 50-over format, and it would be a leap of faith to suddenly include him over the likes of Ferguson or Henry, who have been strong contributors this summer. A stellar option to have in reserve if required.
Likely squad: Martin Guptill, Henry Nicholls, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Tom Latham, Jimmy Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult, Matt Henry, Colin Munro, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi/Todd Astle