Academy preparation proves valuable for replacements
New Zealand Cricket must be breathing a huge sigh of relief that it took up the invitation to send its Academy side to India for an early season tournament in August.
In a season where selectors and administrators have had so much go wrong, when they had no control whatsoever over events, the worth of the Indian visit may yet prove a godsend.
If nothing else, the tour has ensured replacement players have at least had some match play in a competitive environment.
All three replacements called into the team preparing for the Test matches in South Africa were key players in the Academy side. Two of them, Kerry Walmsley and Chris Martin, face the task of giving the CLEAR Black Caps attack some bite if the side is to be competitive.
The players leave tomorrow, and have joined Mathew Sinclair and Mark Richardson to complete their final preparations at New Zealand's High Performance Centre at Lincoln University.
Martin, who will celebrate his 26th birthday on the tour, was the latest to get confirmation that has name will be on a boarding pass after the initially preferred Andrew Penn was forced to cry off when failing a fitness test.
For someone who lives, breathes and sleeps cricket, as he does, the tour is a big opportunity.
"I had a good off season and when we went on the Academy tour we were told there would be places for quick bowlers and opening batsmen this summer, and that prophesy has been fulfilled," Martin said.
Just being named as a member of the New Zealand pace attack has been a hospital pass this summer, as Penn found out, but Martin is not shirking the job ahead.
"I prefer to bowl more overs. It keeps the body in condition to have a workload. If I have a layoff, that is when I get niggles," he said.
An added bonus for Martin at the end of the Indian tour was the chance to take part in one of Dennis Lillee's pace bowling clinics. The benefit for Martin was a slight change to his left-arm in delivery.
"He shortened my front arm so that I get through the crease quicker and he wanted me cocking my wrist more as I bowled. I've been working on those points ever since."
With cricket in England and Scotland in previous winters, three tours to Australia with national academy teams, the Academy tour to India and now off to South Africa, he is close to completing the full set of countries to visit.
He's been told to expect variety in the wickets but is also expecting plenty of pace and bounce as the South Africans look to develop tracks to suit their own players.
"I'm reasonably confident for the tour after having a good tour of India," he said.
Northern Districts batsman Hamish Marshall has literally been through hell twice to get his chance to tour.
During the tour to India where he made such an impression on selection convenor Sir Richard Hadlee, Marshall found the benefits from hard work he had been doing in England on his concentration and patience paid off.
When scoring the first of two centuries on the tour the temperature was 35 degrees celsius and 90% humidity. Marshall suffered physically but didn't give in.
"I just kept telling myself to keep playing straight. I was walking away after every ball and then coming back and concentrating.
"Down the end of the ground we had a team flag and I kept looking at that. It was a bit of a pride thing," Marshall said.
Throughout it all he was ill with hyperthermia. He struggled to eat food and said he must have thrown up 20 times during the night.
"My tummy struggled to settle after that. I did battle for a while after, and then once I recovered I had to go through it all again," he said.
It was Marshall's ability to fight through those distractions that made an impact on Hadlee and which has won elevation to what Marshall describes as a real "challenge".
"South Africa is arguably the second best team in the world with the second best attack. I feel I have the confidence to perform against that sort of attack. I've been watching them on television but I am concentrating mainly on my own game.
"It is an experience, a challenge. I will know at the end of it whether my game stands up to that level. I intend to do well," he said.
For Kerry Walmsley, the chance to rejuvenate his international career is obvious. He had played only three first-class games before making his Test debut against Sri Lanka in 1994/95.
But since that time he has been dogged by injury and as he said, "when injuries happen you fall down the ladder after that.
"My father even said to me that he thought I'd done my dash. I thanked him for the vote of confidence," he joked.
The Academy trip to India had given him a chance to make an impression on the selectors that he still had the desire to play international cricket.
"I had a five-for and a couple of two-fors over there and I felt the selectors may have had a slightly higher opinion of me as a result of that," he said.
Making it back into the New Zealand side has been a bigger thrill for Walmsley than his first selection.
"It means so much more to me now. I've had a hell of a time.
"But I know how hard I have had to work to get back."
Disappointed with the lack of cricket he got for Auckland last year, Walmsley made the move to Otago and has been a key player for the side already in the Shell Super Max series.
He has found the Max matches useful for the competition in match conditions but the different bowling requirements have not been the best for international preparation.
"I am under no illusions that it is going to be hard work in South Africa."
Walmsley missed out on the Dennis Lillee clinic after the Indian tour because he had a commitment back at his league club in Bangor in North Wales.
That commitment got his new season off to a good start.
The club won the local league for the first time in 115 years.
Having worked hard on his game in Wales, and in the gym at least three times a week there, he said he is feeling good physically.
"I'm in the right frame of mind as well. I'm expecting the wickets will be a bit better for me than in India where they were not quite suited to my height," the 1.98cm tall Walmsley said.
"I know from television how hard it is going to be, but my view is that we are over there for six weeks and I want to make the most of it and push for a Test place."
New Zealand has had the devil of a time with injuries, but if all three can take their chances, the national selectors will have added a little more depth and experience to the pool of players capable of making a contribution at international level.