O'Brien 'would add depth to our group'
New Zealand's national selection manager, Mark Greatbatch, has not closed the door on a possible return to international cricket for the fast bowler Iain O'Brien. However, Greatbatch said there was a long way to go before O'Brien could be considered, and there were plenty of other fast men who would be competing for selection over the coming year.
O'Brien, who turns 35 in nine days, retired from New Zealand in December 2009 and moved to England to be with his British wife. He wanted to qualify as a local player for Middlesex, but the ECB refused to recognise him as one, and he has been in talks with Cricket Wellington to make a return to New Zealand domestic cricket.
If he does head home, O'Brien also wants to push for selection in the national side, having proven himself as an international player by taking 73 Test wickets at 33.27. Greatbatch said it was some way off, but O'Brien, who is recovering from surgery to reattach a torn tendon in his hamstring, could add depth to the New Zealand attack.
"I think there's a fair bit to go there," Greatbatch told ESPNcricinfo. "He's had an operation and I know that Wellington Cricket are looking at that. He's in a rehab situation at the moment. But if he gets back in and starts playing first-class cricket and shows the form he showed before he left international cricket, he would add depth to our group."
New Zealand Cricket named its list of 20 contracted players for 2011-12 on Friday, and there were some changes in the bowling unit. The Test fast man Brent Arnel did not win a deal and nor did Daryl Tuffey, but the left-arm fast bowler from Northern Districts, Trent Boult, 21, was included as a project player New Zealand hope can turn into a key member of the attack.
"We feel he's [Boult] the best of the young bowlers who has played some first-class cricket and has a bit of experience behind him, but he's still a work in progress," Greatbatch said. "They're only 12-month contracts, but we're hoping that if we get some development out of him and a few others in the next 12 months it will push on to the next two or three years. He swings the ball. He bowls with a bit of pace and good variations. There's a lot of upside with him."
Chris Martin, 36, is expected to remain the Test spearhead during a year in which New Zealand will play five series in the longer format, while Hamish Bennett, Andy McKay, Tim Southee and Kyle Mills are the other key fast men in the squad. Greatbatch said there had been promising signs from several of the bowlers in an otherwise tough year for New Zealand.
"McKay has impressed last year and we think he's got some upside," he said. "Southee is developing and maturing. Martin had a very good year and took 20-odd Test wickets; he's 14th in the world in Test rankings. You've got to reward guys like that. He's still keen as mustard and fit, and we've got 10 Tests coming up."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo