The darkest of clouds surrounded the New Zealand team in the lead-up to their Super Eights contest against Ireland but by the time the game was over - within the first six overs, for all practical purposes - at Trent Bridge, they had found a shining silver lining. With injuries ruling out three players capable of winning Twenty20 matches single-handed, Aaron Redmond, a novice who had never played limited-overs cricket at the international level, answered the distress call and grabbed his unexpected chance with a powerful performance.
For most, being plucked out of the grind of grade cricket and thrown into an international arena - a World Cup game no less, irrespective of the opposition - against the new ball, would be a daunting opportunity. For Redmond, though, the eleventh-hour call-up worked to his advantage. It left him with no time to think about the magnitude of responsibility he had been given and the scrutiny he would be under in a global event.
"I don't think I had enough time to make the transition, to be honest," Redmond said. "I only got the call-up yesterday and the next thing I know I was in the hotel. I actually thought I might not play so I was pretty calm."
Redmond had followed the tournament on television, keeping track of New Zealand's fortunes as he went through the routines of club cricket. He would have known they had turned for the worse as Jesse Ryder was hospitalised with an infection and Ross Taylor and Daniel Vettori struggled with hamstring and shoulder problems. Redmond had just scored a hundred - 146 in 80 minutes (the scorer gave up counting balls) - against Astley Bridge in the Bolton League, where most of the recent matches had been reduced to 30 overs because of rain. Little did he know his decision to travel to England and play cricket during the New Zealand winter would present him with a call-up to the national side.
"It's a long way to fly someone from New Zealand in the middle of winter, so smart play from Aaron to come over and play league cricket," said his captain Brendon McCullum. "It definitely helped with him being over here."
Even after his call-up, few expected Redmond to entertain like he did. He had struggled to muster 54 runs in three Tests during the tour of England last summer and came across as a dour batsman. But the few who watched him with Otago would have raved about the 56-ball century he scored against Central Districts this February. McCullum also was surprised at how easily he was outscored by Redmond today.
"Every time we've batted together previously [for Otago] he's got about 1 or 2," McCullum said. "He certainly took the initiative and, if anything, I struggled to get him back on strike. He still managed to strike the ball as cleanly as he did."
Wearing one of McCullum's shirts with the name taped over, Redmond hit the ground running, driving his first ball from Peter Connell through cover for four. He pierced the infield effortlessly after that and sent seven of his first ten deliveries to the boundary. He lifted New Zealand from the gloom caused by the injuries, scoring 40 of the first 44 runs, and finishing with 63 off 30. Oddly, for an innings with a strike-rate of 210.00, Redmond hit 13 fours and no sixes. By the time he was dismissed, New Zealand had scored 91 in 9.3 overs and the threat of an upset had all but vanished.
McCullum was generous in his praise for Redmond because this was New Zealand's second tricky match against an Associate. They were presented with a seven-over lottery against Scotland, which they won with an over to spare, and now were severely depleted against Ireland. "To make the contribution he did, he took the game away from them [Ireland] inside three overs," McCullum said. "It was a pretty nervy game for us. He gave the rest of the side a lot of impetus and a lot of momentum."
New Zealand's second Super Eight game is against Pakistan at The Oval on Saturday. Redmond's league club has its net sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays. He won't be turning up for practice tomorrow.