Blackcaps in Sri Lanka: Hamish Rutherford's Cricketing Adventure

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Hamish Rutherford has been called into the Blackcaps T20I squad and thus, his journey in and out of Blackcaps groups continues in rather niggly fashion. Obviously Rutherford won't care about the logistics, yet it was only a few months ago when Rutherford had to leave his Kiwi County Tour campaign with Worcestershire to join an Aotearoa 11 in Australia for pre World Cup antics. Rutherford now leaves England, for to join a Blackcaps squad as they prepare for their last game in Sri Lanka.

The weird thing about Rutherford's journey to Australia, was that he was already in England playing 50-over cricket, then he went to join the wider Blackcaps group's World Cup prep. Rutherford was in the same country, playing the same format as the World Cup but got yanked to Australia where he played in two of the three games. This Sunday, Worcestershire are scheduled to play their T20 Blast quarter-final and won't have the services of Rutherford who heads to Sri Lanka for a single T20I - where he might not even play.

Hamish Rutherford has been called into the Blackcaps T20I squad and thus, his journey in and out of Blackcaps groups continues in rather niggly fashion. Obviously Rutherford won't care about the logistics, yet it was only a few months ago when Rutherford had to leave his Kiwi County Tour campaign with Worcestershire to join an Aotearoa 11 in Australia for pre World Cup antics. Rutherford now leaves England, for to join a Blackcaps squad as they prepare for their last game in Sri Lanka.

The weird thing about Rutherford's journey to Australia, was that he was already in England playing 50-over cricket, then he went to join the wider Blackcaps group's World Cup prep. Rutherford was in the same country, playing the same format as the World Cup but got yanked to Australia where he played in two of the three games. This Sunday, Worcestershire are scheduled to play their T20 Blast quarter-final and won't have the services of Rutherford who heads to Sri Lanka for a single T20I - where he might not even play.

Coach Gary Stead listed a reason for Rutherford's inclusion as "he's in England playing at the moment so it's a quick trip here". Quick trip? It's roughly a 10 hour flight from London to Colombo in Sri Lanka, which fair play, is a few hours shorter than flying from Auckland but definitely no quick trip. Nor was Rutherford's trip from England to Australia for some fairly meaningless pre World Cup cricket.

Of course, we have heard about the injury crisis ravaging the Blackcaps playing stocks and thus Rutherford was called up. This is viewed as the best way to deal with the situation and there are no issues with how it's played out, this is a weird little situation for Rutherford to be in though as he chases the Blackcaps around the world for little to no playing time. Worcestershire announced that Rutherford would return to England immediately, to finish the County Championship in a whirlwind cricket excursion.

More importantly than those funky logistics though, is Rutherford's resurgence. The reason Rutherford has found himself as the bloke chasing the Blackcaps around the world, is his run-scoring last season in Ford Trophy and Plunket Shield cricket. In typical Blackcaps fashion (Lockie Ferguson's strongest domestic format is four-day cricket, but he's pigeon-holed as a white-ball Blackcap), Rutherford's weakest format last summer was Super Smash cricket; now he's the next up Blackcaps T20I player.

Here are Rutherford's stats for last summer split into the three formats...

Plunket Shield: 535 runs @ 41.15avg, 1 hundy, 3 halfies.

Ford Trophy: 393 runs @ 65.50avg, 2 hundies.

Super Smash: 227 runs @ 28.37avg, 1 halfie.

Go one step further and you will find that the last two Super Smash campaigns have been Rutherford's weakest in recent years. Rutherford averaged 34.60 in 2013/14, then 64avg in 2015/16, then 34avg in 2016/17 before taking a dip to average 12.85 and 28.37 in the following two summers. Somehow Rutherford's Super Smash (minor) decline has won him a call up to the Blackcaps T20I team.

Rutherford however, feels like he's the next man up in both T20I and ODI cricket. Hence this isn't really any surprise and is more a case of coach Stead and his selectors identifying a bloke in their white ball depth chart and sticking with him. Given that Will Young was as close as you can possibly get to making a Test debut, one would suggest that Young is next in line for Test cricket in a similar sense for Rutherford's standing in limited overs cricket.

Things get very muddled though when pondering where Rutherford ranks as a T20I option, ahead of a plethora of talent batsmen. I have no problems with Rutherford gaining traction as a Blackcaps option in T20I and ODI cricket, it's now up to Rutherford as to what he does with any opportunities. What I find interesting is the list of names that have been overlooked; Will Young, Mark Chapman, Glenn Phillips, Tom Blundell, Jimmy Neesham, George Worker, Cameron Fletcher, Michael Bracewell.

I'm not suggesting that those batsmen should have been selected ahead of Rutherford, merely that this is the general group that Rutherford sits in as a kiwi batsman. These are the lads in contention for the fringe Blackcaps batting spots and I could drop a note on each of those batsman, at this stage Rutherford's the one who got selected. Young obviously isn't viewed as a T20I option right now despite being classy across all formats, while the Chapman/Phillips duo have fallen rather drastically out of favour and then you have someone like Neesham who is currently in the Caribbean and no one knows why he isn't in post World Cup Blackcaps squads.

This is the most interesting aspect of Blackcaps cricket right now as I'm curious to see which players come into Blackcaps squads over the next 12 months. Rutherford represents someone from the older, more established crop who has hung around and found himself back in the mix. Alternatively there is the younger group who are looking the work their way into the Blackcaps mix and a by-product of that will be keeping those older lads out of any Blackcaps squad.

Right now it feels like we are on the cusp of a transition period, or in the early stages of transition period where the younger players haven't quite dominated enough to undeniable move up to the Blackcaps level. This summer will signal a key point of the transition, as either group will own domestic cricket and this will influence who creeps into Blackcaps squads.

Depending on how much Rutherford enjoys flying long distance for limited cricketing opportunities, Rutherford is the winner at the moment. He's clearly in favour of new-ish coach Stead and then the battle will be for Rutherford to sustain his run-scoring in Aotearoa's domestic cricket, while others come hunting for his spot.

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Peace and love 27.