In exploring these domestic cricket contracted player lists ahead of the 2019/20 summer, I am three squads deep and can already double down on my hunch that kiwi cricket is in a great space in terms of a strong, talented contingent of young cricketers settling into domestic cricket. This was evident as I wrote about Auckland Aces with Kyle Jamieson joining the likes of Sean Solia, Glenn Phillips and Mark Chapman (among others), while the whole angle for Central Districts Stags was that their entire squad is capable of sliding into higher honours in the next few years.
Logan van Beek
Nothing changes in moving down to Wellington Firebirds where there is still a veteran core, although the Firebirds roster is getting fresh new vibes. I have meditated on three of the six domestic squads thus far and all three have a group of at least four-five players who I'd consider 'intriguing prospects' and as I ponder the Northern Districts Knights, Canterbury and Otago Volts squads, straight off the top of my noggin I can already see that nothing changes throughout Aotearoa. Every association skews younger now and every association has top-tier prospect talent.
I can already feel how the rest of these previews will look and I consider it my duty to highlight this wave of young cricketers now dominating the domestic circuit. With the retirement of Luke Woodcock, Wellington will be led by Hamish Bennett and Jeetan Patel, who will have the experience of Logan van Beek, Michael Bracewell, Jimmy Neesham and Tom Blundell in support. Don't forget that Devon Conway is not only one of the best batsmen who hasn't played for the Blackcaps, he's also vastly experienced in First Class cricket and needs to be considered a leader of some capacity.
Wellington are going to roll out an almighty core, as Neesham and Blundell are the only two Firebirds who start the season as being in the Blackcaps mix across all formats. Andrew Fletcher made his debut last summer and led all Ford Trophy run-scorers, averaging 56.18 via three centuries and three halfies; Fletcher was joined by Neesham and Conway in the top-five for Ford Trophy runs last summer.
Fletcher, Malcolm Nofal, Iain McPeake and Ollie Newton are the domestic soldiers of the group. Nofal has shown great signs with the bat and ball as a capable spinner, while McPeake and Newton are fine operators in conjunction with Bennett; the Firebirds seamers all serve up a heavy ball and exploit conditions well.
This group of Firebirds youngins though, is perhaps the most low key funky. So far Auckland have the headline acts in their young talent, CD have a roster stacked with such talent and Wellington have the group that only cricket nerds will know about. Ben Sears impressed in the Super Smash last summer as a hostile seamer, averaging 18.16 through five games and how Sears develops under the guidance of Bennett especially will be an enticing narrative.
Much will depend on how much game time Sears can get, having played one Plunket Shield game to go with five games in Super Smash and five in Ford Trophy. This competition for spots should force Sears to improve and crack the 1st 11 more often, thus opening us up to his potential and gauging where Sears sits in the young seamer group.
Jakob Bhula and Rachin Ravindra are also highly talented prospects, primarily with the bat while also dabbling in spin. They are both 19-year-olds, with Bhula playing nine Ford Trophy games last season where he opened the batting a bunch of innings and while Bhula didn't do anything super notable in his limited opportunities, he is someone who is likely to flourish when exposed to consistent domestic cricket.
Ravindra on the other hand, has enjoyed a crazy 12 months. Taken on the Aotearoa A tour to United Arab Emirates to face Pakistan A, Ravindra also played against India A in Aotearoa and as a youngster, Ravindra averages 32.84 in nine First Class games. It feels like Ravindra has the most upside right now and has clearly made an impression on the spies at NZC as he swiftly moved into Aotearoa A cricket before making his domestic debut for Wellington.
Both Bhula and Ravindra could open in Ford Trophy and Plunket Shield cricket, especially now that Woodcock has retired. Fletcher will want a run though and Bhula has the most versatility to slide into the middle order, with Ravindra sticking to the opening role. The domestic cricket nerd in me wants to see Bhula and Ravindra in the 1st 11 as much as possible, with time to establish themselves further at this level. That they are both nice spin options, also offers tremendous balance to the Firebirds if they do head down that route.
No one is going to tell you that the Sears, Bhula and Ravindra trio is the most exciting group of youngsters in Aotearoa. Other associations may have bigger names or simply more players of that variety, yet this Wellington Firebirds trio can't be overlooked and have a rather solid nature to their cricketing potential. Do not be surprised to see one of, if not all three of these lads break out as strong performers and perhaps wiggle ahead of other intriguing prospects.
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