The only perceivable constant in New Zealand cricket,especially in the last decade or so,is change. Hardly do the Black Caps end up with a similar combination of players for two consecutive series or tournaments,and nowhere in the cricketing world are selectors more on their toes than in Kiwi land despite having comparatively fewer options to choose from.
While the tag of dark-horses,which has accompanied New Zealand cricket for long,stood mainly for their ability to surprise a more fancied opposition; these days,the surprise-element for their opponents also stretches to the increasing ambiguity surrounding the exact bunch of players they will end up encountering eventually. Getting New Zealands final XI and their respective attributes right must certainly be one of the most challenging aspects for those competing in fantasy cricket games and betting men alike. And they look set to face the same quandary again over the next 40 days,looking at the 15-member Kiwi outfit which landed in Ahmedabad for their three-Test,five-ODI tour.
One of the more curious aspects of the team is that not only do their personnel keep changing,the respective roles of those who do hold on to for any extended period of time also keep evolving continuously. Brendon McCullum one of the more senior members of the side is a wicket-keeper one day,and a specialist top-order batsman the next. At least,with the aggressive right-hander having officially hung up his gloves,Gareth Hopkins looks settled as the regular wicket-keeper. But three Tests is a long time in New Zealand cricket,and McCullum might well go back to his dual role.
The opening slots too have been up for grabs since Mark Richardson retired,and the Kiwis have tried almost a dozen openers in the last five years. While Tim McIntosh and Martin Guptill will start off as first-choice openers,it wont be surprising to see McCullum or even Jesse Ryder returning to that role.
Skipper Daniel Vettori,now counted amongst the specialist batsmen in the team,continues to acquire new strings to his bow almost on a series-to-series basis. And while he has averaged 42 with the bat as captain,the left-arm spinner will carry a major share of the burden for the bowling over the next few weeks.
Another engaging facet of New Zealand cricket is that the door is never shut completely on anyone. While the likes of James Franklin and Lou Vincent keep returning,only to fade away yet again,Matthew Sinclair made a comeback to Tests earlier this year but has missed out on the Indian tour.
Though his record has been woeful outside New Zealand,except perhaps in South Africa,Chris Martin is not only the fourth highest wicket-taker in his countrys Test history; he is also second only to Richard Hadlee in playing more Tests as a genuine fast bowler,with 56 Tests to date.
The constant shuffling also presents a number of players with opportunities to shine on the international stage.
Lesser-known rising stars
Brent Arnel (right-arm fast) Age: 31; Tests: 5 wickets at 50 from two matches against Australia
Unfortunately for Arnel,most of his family and friends ended up missing his debut,where he dismissed opener Philip Hughes with just his fifth delivery in Tests. Though he didnt make much of an impact on the Aussies thereafter,the tall paceman,a relatively late-bloomer,did impress with his pace. A basketball nut,as he calls himself,Arnel is coming off a good performance with the New Zealand A side in Zimbabwe,where he ended up with 13 wickets.
BJ Watling (right-handed opening bat) Age: 25; Tests: 27.85 in 4 Tests with one fifty
Like his role-model Jonty Rhodes,BJ too calls hockey his second sport,which he plays in the winter. While he has been impressive in the field so far,Watling has a long way to go before emulating his idol with the bat. Aggressive by nature,he impressed on debut against Pakistan,sharing half-century stands with Tim McIntosh in both innings and unbeaten on a 62-ball 60 in the second. Coming from South Africa at 10,he has struggled since and is likely to start on the bench.
Hamish Bennett (right-arm fast) Age: 23; Tests: yet to make his debut
Bennetts ability to bowl over 140 kph has been heralded as his major attribute. Strongly-built with a powerful action,the Canterbury youngster didnt take his cricket seriously till he was 16,but has made considerable progress ever since. Though his primary dream was to play for the All Blacks,Bennett counts sharing a room with Chris Cairns,while playing for his state team,as one of his most cherished experiences. Impressive in the two ODIs he played in Bangladesh,Bennett may be the surprise star for the Kiwis.
Kane Williamson (right-handed bat,right-arm off-spin) Age: 20; Tests: yet to make his debut
Fast-tracked into the ODI side,especially by New Zealand standards,the baby-faced Williamson looked all at sea in Sri Lanka,scoring ducks in his first two international innings. The youngest member of the Kiwi squad,he has come up the ranks by excelling at all age-group levels and was the only bright spark in Bangladesh,scoring his maiden ODI century. It could be his off-spin,however,which could win him a Test spot,with many experts having called for his selection as Vettoris spin-partner.