McCullum calls for clarity but it’s complicated
Back in the Black Caps fold for the first time in four years, Brendon McCullum wants the selectors to finally reveal their strongest
Twenty20 international XI in the coming months.
Selection stability and a clear top lineup is priority one for the former skipper as the hosts open their season tomorrow night ranked sixth in the world, with 12 wins from 33 completed T20 internationals since November 2017. Last season at home, there was a
3-2 series loss to England and 5-0 to India, three of those defeats in Super Overs.
Compared with tests (ranked second) and ODIs (ranked third) it’s the Black Caps’ most troublesome format, less than a year out from the next T20 World Cup in India after this year’s was postponed due to Covid-19.
Again, tomorrow night’s threematch series opener against West Indies at Eden Park won’t feature their two best players Kane Williamson and Trent Boult, back from starring roles in the Indian Premier League and being saved for the first test which starts three days after game three.
On the plus side it allows coach Gary Stead to unveil two of New Zealand’s most-discussed cricketers Devon Conway and Kyle Jamieson for their T20 debuts and further cloud, or clarify, the selection puzzle.
Assuming all 16 Black Caps get a run at Eden Park and Bay Oval across this fourday stretch, a total of 26 players will have worn the black
T20 uniform in the past two years.
‘‘New Zealand Cricket has used T20 as an opportunity to blood some guys and freshen up some others who’ve been on the road for a long period of time. There’s probably not the same continuity as we’ve seen in other forms,’’ said guest coach McCullum from managed isolation training, when asked about the T20 side.
‘‘I know Steady and Kane and Tim [Southee] and all the coaches and leaders will want to improve that and with the T20 World Cup not too far away, it’s time to drill down what your best XI is going to be, and start to try and build a squad to be competitive.
‘‘That’s why these games are vital. I’m sure once we get to the end of this season we should have a lot more consistency with how we view selection around the T20 side and what is our best team.’’
For now it’s difficult with Williamson and Boult absent and
Colin de Grandhomme out until at least Boxing Day with a bruised bone in his right foot. But, amid 14 home T20s this season, by the time Australia arrive in February for their five-match series you’d expect some clarity.
The batting order provides the most head-scratchers, with de Grandhomme having largely batted No 4 and returned single figure scores in his last five T20 knocks. In tomorrow night’s opener Daryl Mitchell, de Grandhomme’s test replacement, looks likely to fill that No 4 slot with Ross Taylor remaining at five and Jimmy Neesham at six.
Up top, Martin Guptill and wicketkeeper Tim Seifert will likely open, with Conway or the recalled Glenn Phillips at No 3. The latter two could also put the heat on Guptill when Williamson returns. Colin Munro was overlooked after being granted permission to play Australia’s Big Bash, and it gets tougher in a toporder logjam, but McCullum is a fan and warns not to write him off.
Similarly, Mark Chapman is highly rated and comes in for game three where he’s seen as Taylor’s backup at No 5.
Then there’s the question of where Williamson bats later on.
He was effective at No 4 for Sunrisers Hyderabad where he scored 317 runs at 45 and a strike rate of 134. In his last Black Caps T20 innings he blasted 95 off 48 balls against India at Hamilton, batting in his regular No 3 spot.
With a nod to the future, an XI of Seifert, Phillips, Conway, Williamson, Chapman, Mitchell, Neesham, Mitchell Santner, Jamieson, Lockie Ferguson and Boult would be an exciting one for this experimental phase – let’s say against Pakistan pre-Christmas – before big decisions are required.