A Test series win and a drawn ODI series vs Pakistan in United Arab Emirates then a Test series win and ODI series sweep vs Sri Lanka in Aotearoa, may have a few kiwi cricket fans thinking that Blackcaps coach Gary Stead is the chosen one. Taking over from Mike Hesson mid-way through 2018, Stead appears to have had an immediate impact on the Blackcaps and while the timing of Hesson's departure was pretty damn weird, the timing for Stead couldn't be better with a World Cup looming.
We currently sit in a weird spot where it's difficult to gauge or judge the impact and influence of Stead as the Blackcaps coach. First and foremost, he has only been in charge for two series and this small sample size doesn't align with going in on sussing out statistical improvements. Then there is the matter of digesting how much Stead has actually done in shaping the Blackcaps Test and ODI teams, or assessing the left-over effect of Hesson.
Regular Niche Cache readers know that the Hesson/Gavin Larsen era was a bloody weird time. Hesson was reasonably successful, especially with his sidekick Brendon McCullum as the Blackcaps captain and regardless of the weird Blackcaps vibes, it's impossible to argue that the Blackcaps enjoyed a lovely run under Hesson. Selections were always a bit weird though and to sum up my own perception of the Hesson Blackcaps; it always felt like they could be better, but weren't.
The intricacies of Hesson's tenure don't interest me now, nor are they important. What is important is that Hesson laid the foundations for what we have now and a new bloke had to come in to erect the house frame on top of those foundations. The first thing that stood out when the Blackcaps were in UAE, was the vibe of the Blackcaps and how happy everyone appeared to be, especially in welcoming spinners Ajaz Patel and Will Somerville into the Test mix.
I have no point of reference to compare that to the previous regime and it would be foolish to suggest that this was not the case under Hesson. It was merely an observation about the start of Stead's tenure and a tangible vibe from the Blackcaps, away in tough conditions was a great start for a new coach.
Stead wasn't afraid to make tough calls in the Test 1st 11 either and while the Sri Lanka series featured the same team across both Tests, here was a new coach over in UAE switching things up. Tim Southee didn't play the first two Tests and then came in for Neil Wagner in Test three, taking 1w and 3w in his lone Test on tour. Ish Sodhi played the first two Tests and was then replaced by the old newbie Somerville for the third; Somerville took 7w on Test debut.
Brave selections, that most importantly worked brilliantly. Another sign of good vibes was the fact that Southee and Somerville came into the team and performed, in a must-win Test. Other than these moves from Stead though, another note is a wee bit different in the sense that his consistency of selection has been absolutely delightful.
No changes to the batting line up in the six Tests so far and immense clarity in the pecking order. If they need another seamer in the Test team, it's Matt Henry and another batsmen is now Will Young. More noteworthy though, has been Sodhi playing all six ODI games under Stead and the timing of this is important considering World Cup preparations need to be in action. Sodhi has typically been a yo-yo, dropped after a mediocre game and not given the chance to work his way through any issues. Six of six is reasonably funky for Sodhi and if we're not seeing the value in that already, come World Cup time Sodhi could have a summer of ODI cricket to his name.
Lockie Ferguson has played five of six ODI's under Stead and missed an ODI vs Sri Lanka via some rotation of the bowling unit; Henry was the only seamer to play all three games. There is a clear hierarchy at play from the Sri Lanka ODI series as well, with Doug Bracewell in the squad but not used in any of the games. One would assume, given what we have seen from Stead thus far, that this was communicated to Bracewell clearly and that his chance will come.
Also based on what we've come to know about Stead as Blackcaps coach, Jimmy Neesham should get an opportunity to build on his three ODI's vs Sri Lanka. This is where things get funky though as Stead will no doubt want to see what others can do (mainly Mitchell Santner) and I'd suggest that the way Stead balances consistency vs rotation, will offer greater insight into Stead's methods.
From a vibe perspective, everything looks awesome. Selections are pretty damn good as well considering guys are given multiple games in a row. The team is also performing, so while it's unwise to go too deep into individual statistics (is Stead helping guys get better?), everything is coming together to grab wins. The ODI series vs India not only presents an enticing challenge, but also a few new wrinkles in which we can better gauge how Stead operates.
My gut feel is that this ODI group will remain fairly similar for the India series. Five ODI's allows for Stead to balance that consistency vs rotation, perhaps more importantly it will give an opportunity for the likes of Sodhi, Ferguson, Henry, Neesham, Colin Munro, Henry Nicholls and Tim Seifert to come against a better team. I have ideas as to what Stead will do with the ODI group throughout this summer, with five ODI's vs India and three vs Bangladesh, but this is more a case of me just being excited to see how Stead deals with this fairly crazy situation he finds himself in, early in his time as Blackcaps coach.
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Peace and love 27.