Tonight’s match in Adelaide (man we must be low-rating to be playing on a Tuesday!) looms ominously over the Black Caps. While we’re 2-1 up in the series and gave the Australians an almighty fright with only 10 1/2 men in Sydney, there’s something about giving Ponting’s team a glimmer of light that bothers me immensely.
A friend emailed me today wracked by similar ill-feeling, but also suggested we post an ultimate currently-playing Black Caps XI, then allow for readers to respond. So that’s what we’re doing.
Under normal circumstances, you’d think that barring a couple of contentious decisions you’d go with the current side, but these are not normal circumstances. The premature retirements of the Bracewell era and the enforced divisions of IPL/ICL debacle have scattered a generation of cricketers to the four winds, and injuries have done for the rest.
Our criteria for selection is that a player must be currently active, ie playing the game professionally, and we’re picking them on a combination of form and pedigree. They don’t have to be in the nick of their lives, but should be in reasonable shape at least. Here, then, is my wishlist XI:
1. Jesse Ryder (currently: out of side through shoulder injury)
We were relishing watching Jesse take on the Australians. He has the right temperement and game to be a sensation over there, and I can imagine the crowd swinging in behind him too, recognisjng one of their own in his impressive frame. Would walk (or maybe stumble, depending on the time of day) into this team.
2. Nathan Astle (Last played for the inaccurately-named Mumbai Champs in the ICL late 2008)
OK so he’s not in the form of his life, but when did Nath ever let us down? He might be 37, but Shane Warne’s 39 and he’d b a shoo-in for any side in the world. Astle’s exquisite pacing and structure would be a great foil to Ryder’s aggression, and would ensure the tempo remained without getting too bananas about it.
3. Ross Taylor (in the current side)
More accustomed to batting a spot lower, Taylor’s magnificent recent form sees him elevated a spot to first drop. His confidence and natural hitting would gel nicely with Ryder or Astle, and would stop the sense of doldrums we have in the current side from seeping in the way they can with Fulton hanging around.
4. Stephen Fleming (currently retired from international cricket, just turned out for Wellington in Twenty20)
Averages an impressive 45.72 batting at four against Australia, and a batsman who could come in when the shine was off the ball and Bracken was out of the attack and have a merry old time. OK, so he’s not going to score a match-winning ton, but the sight of Flem walking purposefully to the crease warms any red-blooded NZ cricket fan’s heart.
5. Grant Elliott (in the current side)
The best batsmen in our last two games, and a guy you now feel good watching walk in when we’re in trouble. If we were three down for 50-odd and needed a rescue package he’d be my guy, but he seems versatile enough to hit out if the game required it. Hard to say no to the pigdog here, particularly for his miserly bowling, but you can’t deny Elliott his spot after that century.
6. Jacob Oram (currently, interminably, injured)
I’ve heard people say that Oram should be dispensed with, that he’s a distraction to the side, and I’ve some sympathy to their position. His inability to remain fit, and the agonies we go through each time he falls make him tough to champion. But his best late-order innings are some of cleanest hitting I’ve ever seen, plus his wicket-to-wicket bowling is more than useful. And if we need 90 off 60 there’s no man I’d rather see in black. Or teal. Or beige or whatever.
7. Brendon McCullum (in the current side)
Actually, maybe no man save this one. I’d been getting a little sore with McCullum, but the sheer bravery he exhibited on Sunday night turned me round. Batting at seven he brings a tremendous power to our lower-order, and while he might relish opening he serves the team best here, so that’s where he plays.
8. Daniel Vettori (in the current side)
He might not take a vast number of wickets, but the lack of runs he goes for mean that those hitting out elsewhere can be attributed to him too. His ten overs invariably alter the complexion of the match, and his batting at the death too is integral to our battling spirit. Would retain the captaincy too. I like his style.
9. Kyle Mills (in he current side)
He’s not ranked fifth in the ODI bowling charts for nothing, and if he were paired with another disciplined quick like the one below we’d have one of the best opening combinations in world cricket. After a sorry beginning to his career he’s become a handy death bowler, and consistently takes the wickets of the better opposition batsmen too.
10. Shane Bond (Currently playing domestic cricket for Canterbury)
On his day, the best bowler in the world. Not many New Zealanders you can say that about, but if you look at the records for ODIs they tell a tragic story. Fourth best career average in history and second-best career strike rate, with Mendis ahead each category and on recent evidence likely to fall. Bond is still bowling well domestically, but if there’s one NZer that terrifies the Australians it’s him.
11. Tim Southee (in the current side)
The most marginal selection of the lot, but he squeaks in based on his having the equal best figures of any New Zealander in Sydney, and the feeling that this kid is a keeper. Just based on the cool way he’s kept himself together in some trying situations and hasn’t let the elevation get to him I’d have him in my side. If only in a desperate attempt to keep the average age under 30.
So that’s my line-up, based on instinct and sentiment as much as anything else. I get the feeling if they walked out onto the Adelaide Oval in five minutes time they’d absolutely smash the Aussies, out of raw hunger as much as anything else. Sad not to find a spot for Pigdog or Harry, both stalwarts of the game, and Chris Cairns and Macca seem a little removed from the game now (though the same could be said of Astle; I just couldn’t bring myself to leave him out). But please post your own XIs, with justifications or without, in the comments.