Selecting an Aotearoa A squad is probably one of the easier tasks in the depths of NZC's offices, such is the cricketing talent on the cusp of consistent Blackcaps selection. Having made these squads under the Niche Cache umbrella over the past few years, I'm well aware of the talent that is coming through and if this squad doesn't have you at the very least intrigued about what the next few years could look like, you may be one of those doom and gloom Warriors fans.
As many have noted, it's great to have Shane Bond back on board as a cricketing mind. I've had visions of the Blackcaps being coached by a team consisting of Stephen Fleming, Daniel Vettori and Bond, so the mere presence of Bond is enticing. Bond's time as Blackcaps bowling coach came with Aotearoa's bowlers at the time enjoying a purple-patch, followed by a bit of a drop off when Bond left the gig. Simply having Bond in the mix is cool, let alone the style of seamers Bond will work with closely over in India - conditions that will amplify Bond's wisdom.
Bond will talk fast bowling with Lockie Ferguson, Matt Henry and Scott Kuggeleijn. Seth Rance looks like the odd-man-out as he relies more on accuracy and nibble, while the younger seamers are quick and aggressive. Rance is more of the typical kiwi seamer type and although Henry's not rapid, he's fast enough and in conjunction with Ferguson and Kuggeleijn, they offer a splash of Neil Wagner's enthusiasm. All four of these lads could step into a Blackcaps squad and do a job, although that younger trio especially, should be expected to blossom in the next year or two.
Ish Sodhi is the spinner of note and Todd Astle is rewarded for living among domestic cricket's top tier on a yearly basis. Mitchell Santner has held things down as the lone Blackcaps spinner and the presence of Sodhi opens the door for the Blackcaps to switch things up, playing with two spinners - and not just in the sub-continent. The only sticking point there is that Sodhi must demand selection, Sodhi has to make it impossible not to select him and then we can really ponder how to fit an attacking leggy and an accurate Vettori-type into the same Test team.
There's also a splash of spin with George Worker and this tour is important for everyone, yet if I were to put anyone on a pedestal, it's got to be Worker. Any time Blackcaps selections are discussed, Worker's irresistible domestic form is mentioned and has to be respected. Worker has struggled to get a consistent crack in any format though and while Worker will stay in the frame for a long time to come, such is the quality of the young wave coming through, an A tour in which Worker doesn't perform his best could see Worker slide back into the pack.
We don't really need to say too much about the likes of Jeet Raval, Colin Munro, Henry Nicholls, Tom Bruce and Will Young. Raval, Munro and Nicholls are there or thereabouts for the Blackcaps already, while I've spun absolute yarns about the young CD batting duo in Bruce and Young. I view Bruce and Young as the best batsmen still waiting to get their sniff, so expect them to do some things on A tour, and then throughout the domestic season.
Sean Solia has been plucked out of Auckland as the bolter, coming off an exceptional Ford Trophy campaign in which he averaged 77.66 and finished with 99.57 strike-rate. Having made his debut last summer, Solia took the Ford Torphy by storm and that didn't quite translate into the last five Plunket Shield games where Solia was sold without the same dominance; 31.16avg.
Giving blokes a chance is the whole point of an A tour, so I can't pick holes in selections. Unless Solia goes bonkers in India and then backs it up in the opening rounds of Plunket Shield cricket, it just feels like Solia's in the next group down as he has been selected based on a fantastic few weeks - cool, you did that in your first season, now what?
That next group down could consist of; Nick Kelly, Josh Clarkson, Ben Smith, Chad Bowes, Dane Cleaver, Cole McConchie, Ken McClure, Josh Finne, Bharat Popli, Anurag Verma, Mark Chapman.
(that's how deep the young wave is)
We've also been given some more insight into the wicket-keeper rankings with Tom Blundell and Tim Seifert selected. Dane Cleaver, Cameron Fletcher and Ben Horne round off the wicket-keeper rankings, with Blundell and Seifert leading a strong group of wicket-keeping options. Seifert and Blundell stand out thanks to their batting, so the 'exciting initiative' of having a wicket-keeper coach on tour (Marty Croy) should result in Seifert or Blundell emerging as the better wicket-keeper.
All those limited overs games must be funding the extra plane ticket for Mr Croy, huh?
The lack of another opener is the only niggly point in this squad; Raval is there for the four-dayers and Glenn Phillips will step in for the one-dayers. We've got Tom Latham and Raval locked in as the Test openers, but who is next in line to take their place if either is unavailable? This tour would have been a nice opportunity to take a opener who has the skillset to be a Test opener down the track, giving him experience in a foreign environment and generally sussing him out.
Worker will likely be the other opener on tour (partnering Phillips and Raval), which is good enough. We need to develop classy Test openers though and the likes of Chad Bowes was equally as impressive in Plunket Shield, as Solia was in Ford Trophy. Bowes may have an eligibility situation, so all good - just gotta have another young Test opener lurking. Perhaps that makes this tour even more low key important for Worker.
The fact that we have an A squad touring, is a lovely step forward. These tours should happen at least once, preferably twice (or one big tour) and offer variety in terms of playing conditions. These tours, along with such tours for young women, should be where NZC invest their money and as this squad shows, the chances of a substantial return on that investment is likely.
Peace and love 27.
Hit an ad if you enjoy our cricket yarns. You'll be showing your support and making a donation, without actually making a donation.
Or head over to Patreon, become a Niche Cache Patron and help us serve up more domestic cricket content.