Milne, McClenaghan look for ways to prove fitness
New Zealand are keen to consider injury-hit quick bowlers Adam Milne and Mitchell McClenaghan for the Champions Trophy but head coach Mike Hesson has conceded that getting them enough cricket to prove their fitness will be a challenge.
Both players have spent considerable time on the sidelines. Milne, the right-arm fast bowler, has not played since one appearance at the IPL last year due to hamstring, side and elbow injuries while McClenaghan, the left-armer, has recently been out with an ankle problem, following eye and pelvis injuries in 2016.
New Zealand are unbeaten at home in ODI cricket this season, following series victories against Bangladesh and Australia during which Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson have provided the pace support to Trent Boult and Tim Southee. They are the four frontline quicks on duty for the series against South Africa which starts in Hamilton on Sunday.
Milne and McClenaghan were part of the World Cup squad in 2015 - Milne was a regular in the side until injury ended his tournament after the quarter-final - but the pair's previous international appearance together came last March, in the World T20 semi-final against England.
"Our one-day side has been relatively settled but we've had some pinnacle events where we've tried to put our best team on the park, such as the Chappell-Hadlee, but we do have some players coming back from injury as well who will need to be considered," Hesson said. "It will be challenging because there's not a heck of a lot of cricket for them to play, but the likes of Milne and McClenaghan will certainly have to come into consideration."
Milne was due to make his comeback for a New Zealand XI against the South Africans but the T20 warm-up match was washed out. The challenge for both the fast bowlers, in terms of pushing their cases for the ODI squad, is that the remainder of the domestic season is purely Plunket Shield - the four-day competition - now that the Ford Trophy has been completed.
The situation is made more acute in that neither player has made a first-class appearance since December 2015. Both were among the retained players with their IPL franchises for the 2017 edition.
However, there is an outside chance that Milne could appear for Central Districts in the Plunket Shield before the end of the season. Last week, their coach Heinrich Malan told the New Zealand Herald: "There might be an opportunity and we have him on specific workloads to build up that resilience. It's not just bowling but spending time on the park for four days. We believe that's something Adam would benefit from and hopefully that falls in with plans from the Black Caps to get over that line."
The New Zealand attack that is currently on the park produced a mixed bag in the T20 against South Africa at Eden Park. Trent Boult, who had claimed 6 for 33 to help clinch the Chappell-Hadlee series earlier this month, continued his fine form with 2 for 8 off four overs but the rest of the bowling was inconsistent.
"Trent's been operating really well for us in the last month, he's got a lot of confidence but to get 2 for 8 off four overs in a total of 185 is a real anomaly. He was exceptional," Hesson said. "It's a shame we weren't quite able to back him up at other times but you have to recognise how good he was. I thought Colin de Grandhomme did a really good job but outside of that we were pretty loose and got hit both sides of the wicket."
Hesson was also encouraged by Ben Wheeler's return to New Zealand colours this season, despite the seamer's expensive returns on Friday.
"He has been really good for us. He didn't have his best day yesterday, but he's certainly shown he has some really good skills in the T20 format and, hopefully, in general with the white ball moving forward," he said.
The outlook sounded less encouraging for batsman Colin Munro who bagged his third duck in four T20 innings when he was removed first ball by Chris Morris. His other score in that sequence was a century against Bangladesh, but Munro has already lost his place in the one-day squad and now faces a long wait to find out the future of his T20 position, with New Zealand's next match in the format not until much later this year.
"Colin is a matchwinner for us in T20s but there's no doubt he's a bit inconsistent," Hesson said. "It's something he knows he has to improve. Once he gets a start he's able to make a major contribution but making that start is the toughest thing. He's not involved in our one-day [team], so will be playing Plunket Shield and needs to score some runs to get that confidence back."
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo