By Niall Anderson
With the BlackCaps rising up the test rankings after some of their best performances in years, optimism surrounding New Zealand cricket is as high as it has been in recent times.
Whether it be Brendon McCullum bashing rapid double centuries, Kane Williamson proving his status as the next great New Zealand batsman or Tim Southee and Trent Boult ripping opposition top orders apart, the top end of the New Zealand cricketing spectrum is rightly garnering all the praise it deserves.
The even better news? The joy encompassing cricket in this country shouldn’t stop there. With nearly all of the BlackCaps’ key contributors being on the right side of 30, there’s no need to fast-track youthful prospects like so many times in the past, with those young talents instead being able to provide depth and competition, rather than being called upon as the next saviours of New Zealand cricket.
However, who are these young talents coming through? Which players can we pick as the cream of the upcoming crop of New Zealand cricket? I set out to make a test team of New Zealand cricketers aged 23 or under, to detail the best prospects coming up through the domestic cricket scene.
When deciding on my selections, I focussed largely on success in the red-ball format (Sorry, Jacob Duffy), incorporating statistics along with what I’ve seen from days of sitting in press boxes watching Plunket Shield encounters unfold.
A player’s potential and leanings towards recent production were also taken into consideration in tight cases, while big-time prospects who haven’t yet made a mark on domestic cricket (Sorry, Robbie O’Donnell) were not considered.
Without further ado, here is the New Zealand “23 And Under” test team.
First-class average: 43.76
One of the first names down on the team sheet, Latham has the unenviable task of donning the keeping gloves and opening for the 23 and under squad. (That’s what you get for being this good at a young age, Tom. Sorry.)
With a test average of 40.23, Latham’s shown the ability and potential to be one part of a New Zealand test opening duo for a long time.
First-class average: 41.01
With Latham entrenched as BlackCaps test opener for a while yet, will he be joined by another young gun in Bracewell? Currently spending most of his time batting at first drop, Bracewell has had experience opening before, and with the test side’s middle order set in stone for the foreseeable future, could he be the one out of our many talented players batting at three to make the step up to opener?
First-class average: 40.85
Carter may be the least well known of all the players in the squad, largely due to his domestic inexperience in the shorter forms of the games, having not played a T20 match and participated in just seven one-dayers.
However, Carter’s technique may be the finest of all the “23 And Under” batsmen, with his debut century earlier this year being an absolutely glorious mixture of exquisite off-drives and superbly timed leg-glances.
The record holder for most Plunket Shield runs in a debut season, it’s only a matter of time before Carter rises to national conversation.
First-class average: 49.25
If I’m optimistic about the prospects of Carter, consider me to be all-in on those of Cachopa.
Once I managed to finally figure out which Cachopa was which (no mean feat), Craig’s obvious talent dawned on me. A consistent performer in all forms of the game, Cachopa’s stint in county cricket with Sussex is also a huge positive – the more cricket, the merrier, and Cachopa will certainly be getting plenty of time out in the sun with regular county appearances.
Cachopa is heading in the direction of being a three-format stud for the BlackCaps, and as the premier shareholder I encourage you all to jump on the bandwagon.
First-class average: 34.90
In probably what was the toughest call in the squad, Young gets the nod over Canterbury’s Henry Nicholls, with the former New Zealand under-19 captain delivering on his promise recently with some excellent four-day knocks after a down 2013-2014 campaign.
Proving himself in the shorter forms of the game recently too, Young’s always been tabbed as one to watch out for, and he’s beginning to show everyone why.
First-class average: 24.23/46.05
Santner’s averages don’t jump off the page, but after taking out what was a horror first domestic season you get a better appreciation of his ever-increasing skill-set – averaging 36.2 with the bat and 36 with the ball.
The gangly left-armer showed off his talents with the ball in the recent T20 competition, twice going for just nine runs off his allotted four overs, and he’s shone with the bat for his Northern Knights side in the Ford Trophy as well, blasting several key knocks in a middle-order role.
While fellow Knight and “23 And Under” candidate Daryl Mitchell may be a more handy four-day player at this point in time than Santner, Santner’s immense potential as a legitimate all-rounder sees him get the nod.
First-class average: 33.44/38.24
Kuggeleijn is currently in a weird position at domestic cricket level, thrust into being the leader of the Knights’ bowling attack despite still being inconsistent with the ball, yet still providing immense value due to his ability to operate as a genuine all-rounder.
Capable of being unplayable one over and wayward the next, Kuggeleijn can rip apart the core of a batting order, or find himself conceding five wides with a vast array of aggressive short balls. Expensive in short-form formats, Kuggeleijn is best suited for the longer forms of the game, where his endless aggression and valuable pace makes for a good combination, especially if he’s given some quality pace bowlers to work in tandem with.
In this squad, and with the class of the pacemen still to come, Kuggeleijn’s all-round abilities would be a huge asset to have, especially when operating as a fourth seamer.
First-class average: 24.20/45.67
An easy selection to make, Sodhi is the premier young spin-bowling talent in the country, and while he was undoubtedly raw when first selected for the BlackCaps, it looks like the affable leggie is starting to put the whole package together.
Sodhi’s first-class bowling average of 45.67 had me wondering before the Plunket Shield campaign just how dominant he would be when returning to the domestic scene, but his vast improvement has been obvious – taking 13 wickets at an average of 25.85 this season in the Shield, while also having real moments in the Ford Trophy, proving to be economical while still being a wicket-taking threat.
Although Mark Craig has exceeded almost everyone’s expectations for the national side, I’d hazard a guess it’s not long before we see Sodhi back in the mix as New Zealand’s premier test spin bowler.
First-class average: 16.43/21.93
Matt Henry’s immense potential has been obvious to followers of domestic cricket for a while now, but I think even his most ardent supporters would have been surprised by just how successful he was when thrust into the BlackCaps one-day side.
Small sample size acknowledged – but 19 wickets at an average of 15.26 was a superb start to his international career, and unlike similar short-form success Mitchell McClenaghan, Henry’s first-class four-day statistics reveal he’s a real chance to be a success with the test squad as well.
62 Plunket Shield wickets in just 15 matches at a 21.93 clip suggest it’s just a matter of time before it becomes too difficult not to select him in the test squad, and Neil Wagner should really be looking over his shoulder as Henry steams into the picture.
First-class average: 28.55/30.56
Ahhh, now we get to one of New Zealand’s most interesting cases. On the surface, Milne’s first-class averages would see him not scratch the surface of this test team, but as I mentioned earlier when talking about Santner, we have to play the “potential” card when selecting the best and brightest talents for the future.
Although Milne was long overrated by the casual fan who was enthralled by his 150kmh speed, the CD paceman has recently shown the ability to combine his wicket-taking with some startling economy in the shorter form of the game.
Why does this matter when we’re talking about a test squad? Milne’s improving ability to put the ball in the right spots is going to see his first-class stats improve rapidly, and while there will always be a concern over how effective he can be in longer stints, it looks like the gangly 22-year-old is beginning to deliver on his promise.
First-class average: 17.80/26.65
If it seems like Wheeler has been around for ages, well he has – the Central Districts quick made his debut in March 2010 at age 18, and is now starting his sixth domestic season.
Although his bowling average (26.65) doesn’t compare well to other young seamers like Matt Quinn and fellow CD quick Bevan Small, Wheeler’s larger sample size of success means he ekes out a spot as the first-change seam option alongside Kuggeleijn.
In his past three seasons, Wheeler has taken 43 wickets at 24.49, and in other era’s he may have been a legitimate contender for a national team call-up. In today’s day and age, where our quick bowling stocks are looking as good as they’ve ever been? Wheeler may be left waiting in the wings for a while yet.
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