Unknown teenage spinner assists New Zealand
After hiring the inventor of the doosra coach them, New Zealand have drafted in a teenage bowler, Maurice Holmes, to help them prepare for the Tests against Sri Lanka.
Holmes isn't a familiar name in international cricket - even the staff at Kent, where he plies his trade, had to double check whether he was on their roster for the current season. He's played just five games for Kent's second XI this summer, taking ten wickets at 43.00 with a best of 2 for 47. But he was flown out to Sri Lanka to bowl at Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder and Daniel Vettori on the strength of his nets bowling during the ICC World Twenty20 in England. Such was his impact that the team management requested his assistance in Sri Lanka. In the words of head coach Andy Moles, Holmes "rocked up and the boys said 'Bloody hell, this is like Murali'".
That positive feedback from the players convinced Geoff Allott, New Zealand Cricket's general manager, to have him flown out to Colombo. "He came to us as a nets bowler in England and immediately impressed some of our players, especially Vettori," Allott told Cricinfo. "He was able to bowl like Muttiah Muralitharan and that stood out immediately. The management expressed interesting in Holmes and after following up we made it possible for him to fly out to Sri Lanka."
Holmes spent a couple of days in Colombo bowling at the nets and working with Saqlain Mushtaq, the former Pakistan offspinner - widely credited as the inventor of the doosra, with 496 victims in both Test and ODI versions - hired as spin consultant for the tour.
"It wasn't the first time I had bowled to players of international standard so I knew what to expect in that regard, although I hadn't experienced the conditions before and it was a good challenge adapting to bowl in the subcontinent," Holmes said.
Holmes, on a gap year between secondary school and college, said he never modeled himself on Murali - that's just the way he bowls. "I think wherever I have bowled people have been quick to observe the resemblances between myself and Murali, but I have never felt pressure from the comparisons. In Colombo I just tried to ensure the players were benefiting from me bowling at them.
"We had plans in the nets but it was always flexible enough for each individual to work on their own particular areas or perceived weaknesses."
Allott said he was pleased with the "excellent" feedback from the New Zealand camp. "What we [NZC] had expected of this experiment has worked out rather to plan," he said. "Maurice is a talented bowler able to simulate the same action as Murali and that's primarily why we assigned him to work with Saqlain and the team in the nets. What he offers is something unique; especially to the players we've got who have not played in Sri Lanka. His role was purely to operate in the nets but Maurice was very instrumental in his sessions, putting in long hours, trying to simulate scenarios which our players are likely to face when the series begins.
"Holmes worked in tandem with Saqlain, whose international expertise helped the youngster as well. The two of them talked a lot and Saqlain's input was obviously highly instrumental in their sessions. Holmes bowled a lot to Dan [Vettori] and the feedback has been promising. This decision was part of a long-term goal we [NZC] have and we're hopeful it will pay off."
The experience has, expectedly, been unforgettable for the teenager. "The players have been quick to offer an encouraging word, and kind enough to point out ways in which I might look to move forward in the development of my career," says Holmes. "The trip has certainly been of benefit to me, and has given me new things to take home and work on - more ways to improve."
And what of his future at Kent? "He's a young lad who is part of our academy in Tunbridge and it's very encouraging to hear these positive views coming out for him," says Kent's chief executive Paul Millman. "He's still very raw and his future is understandably uncertain but Kent will do whatever it takes to ensure his full development as a cricketer. He's a very good talent and we hope he comes through. I'm sure this will have been an outstanding opportunity for Maurice."
Earlier this decade Kent signed up Murali; by the end of the decade Holmes may have that opportunity.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo