Big hopes on New Zealand's new boys
They are two types cricketers that a captain dreams of having - A hard-hitting allrounder, capable of batting in the top six and taking Test wickets. And a legspinner.
New Zealand will have both, albeit very raw versions, on display in Dunedin this week with a further sighting of two players who could be central to their Test cricket for the next decade.
Ish Sodhi, 21, and Corey Anderson, 22, will both be playing their first home Tests when they face West Indies at the University Oval having been given their debuts on the recent tour of Bangladesh. Both returned with rave reviews; Anderson because of a maiden Test century and Sodhi because he is a type of player so rarely seen in New Zealand cricket.
On New Zealand television the other day, Simon Doull said that Sodhi has to play every Test match for the next four or five years because he is a such a crucial "investment in New Zealand's future." That is a significant call and, given the pressures of international cricket, unlikely to come to pass (plus the chance that Daniel Vettori's career may yet resume) but it shows the standing Sodhi, despite just 18 first-class matches of which two are Tests, already holds in New Zealand circles. After just one Test, he supplanted Bruce Martin, who only nine months ago made his debut against England in Dunedin, as New Zealand's frontline spinner.
Anderson, a left-hand batsman and left-arm swing bowler (what's with all the left-armers in New Zealand?), made his debut in the same Chittagong Test as Sodhi, and began with 1 and 8 before crunching 116 in the following match in Dhaka. Also in that Test, Sodhi made 58 batting at No. 10 to suggest, like the man whose absence has created the spin-bowling void, Daniel Vettori, he too could contribute important lower-order runs. He already has five first-class fifties.
For Sodhi, though, it is the bowling that really matters. A first-class average of 52 indicates that a lot of patience will be required. His, though, is an art-form few in New Zealand have mastered: Jack Alabaster is considered the best they have produced and he took 49 wickets at 38.02 between 1959 and 1972. A few others have tried, most recently Todd Astle who was given one Test against Sri Lanka, before being discarded. Astle, by comparison, averages 37.25 in first-class cricket.
Anderson is plying a trade far more associated with New Zealand cricket. His bowling is the lesser-developed suit at the moment, but with the bat, there is more than a hint of Jacob Oram about how he goes about his craft. There is also a hint of Oram about the injuries he has suffered. However, if he can build on his early success in Test cricket, he can provide that priceless balance to New Zealand's side, by either allowing a second spinner when conditions dictate, or by relieving the burden on their three frontline quicks.
Although Anderson and Sodhi entered Test cricket at similar ages, they have taken contrasting paths. Anderson was earmarked from the age of 16 as a future international - at 16 years at 89 he was New Zealand's youngest first-class cricketer for 59 years and was the youngest New Zealand player to be handed a contract, at the same age, in 2007 - before his career slipped on the back of fitness and form concerns.
In late 2012, Anderson, having lost 20kg and strung together a sustained period of cricket, was named in the squad for the one-day series in South Africa only for a broken thumb to strike and delay his ODI debut until the Champions Trophy in June.
Between those two events, he showed a glimpse of his batting power against England during their warm-up match, for New Zealand XI, in Queenstown earlier this year. He clubbed 67 off 62 balls in the first innings, giving some tough treatment to Graham Onions who, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, has not played for England since. In a microcosm of his career, he picked up a side strain during that match (although it didn't hamper his strokeplay) and now, as he prepares for his home Test debut, he is recovering from a rib injury which will limit the number of overs he can bowl.
Sodhi's rise has been far more sudden and, so far, less injury-riddled. He grew up in Auckland, after his parents emigrated from India when he was young and overcame the restrictions of unhelpful surfaces and, perhaps, a perceived lack of understanding for the uniqueness of legspin. His first-class debut came in November 2012 for Northern Districts and his Test debut less than a year later. Such has been the rapid promotion, that the West Indies Test will be the first time he has bowled at the University Oval.
He is now playing his domestic cricket alongside Vettori, the man who invited him to bowl at an Auckland trial. Vettori, who is both a team-mate and a mentor for Sodhi (who also credits former New Zealand offspinner Paul Wiseman), has not downplayed his belief in the legspinner. "He's a special talent," Vettori said earlier this year, and he knows a thing or two about young spinners.
There is still a chance, with Vettori retaining hope of returning to Test cricket, that he and Sodhi could play in the same New Zealand team. Perhaps the baton will passed in person. And if both Sodhi and Anderson can form mutually successful careers, New Zealand cricket will have two priceless assets on their hands.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo