New squad is big news in New Zealand
When you're a cricket-starved nation as New Zealand presently is, a mundane thing like the announcement of the side for the Champions Trophy is seized upon like manna from heaven. John Bracewell and his selectors haven't disappointed either, throwing one bolter into the mix and sprinkling the squad with enough intrigue to keep followers interested.
Mark Gillespie, the 26-year-old Wellingtonian, is the bolter. He took 43 wickets at 23.16 in one-dayers last season and impressed judges during New Zealand's two-team development tour to Australia this winter. Given that domestic cricket is watched by three men and their dogs, few would have seen him bowl before he lands in Mumbai with his new team-mates in October.
Supporters will be hoping he is not another Iain O'Brien, another Wellington medium-pacer who was thrown into the deep end against Australia in 2005 and found wanting. Gillespie bowls off a run-up more reminiscent of the 1970s when the likes of Bob Willis and Dennis Lillee pushed off the boundary fence, though there is scant evidence to suggest Gillespie's skills would put him in that category.
More interestingly, Bracewell appears to have earmarked Gillespie to bowl at the end of the innings. To say that death bowling has been a problem area for New Zealand is to say Ricky Ponting can bat a bit. Several have tried without looking remotely like they have come to grips with the requirements.
Kyle Mills, a likeable and honest trier, saw several deliveries disappear when he was given the role against Pakistan during a home series in 2004. When asked why they kept using Mills, the New Zealand brains trust disingenuously stated it was because he kept stepping forward to take the role. Mills' take on it would have been slightly different: he was the only one not stepping back.
Since then several have been tried without ever convincing. Even Shane Bond who, if fit, would be the automatic choice with his ability to bowl full and swing the ball late, struggled in South Africa last year. Gillespie appears to be the latest in the never-ending quest.
If Gillespie was the bolter, Ross Taylor provided the intrigue. More to the point, his absence provided the intrigue. After a terrific domestic one-day season in which he produced three centuries, Taylor was rewarded with a spot in the New Zealand side for two ODIs against West Indies. He scored a passable 46 in two innings at a clip greater than one-a-ball but could not get a look-in for this tournament.
Taylor has been touted as the future of New Zealand's one-day batting and the Champions Trophy would have seemed the perfect place to give him more experience before the World Cup. His omission must place huge doubts over whether he will make that trip at all. Instead Hamish Marshall has been selected. He has passed 50 just once in his past 20 ODI innings for New Zealand, but has been given the nod on the strength of an excellent season for Gloucestershire. He has the most to prove.
Dylan Cleaver is senior sports writer of Herald on Sunday