Colin de Grandhomme emerges as New Zealand's 'X-factor player'

The allrounder's gentle slow-mediums can be highly effective in the right conditions, and his power-hitting skills give New Zealand more cover with the bat

Deivarayan Muthu
Lockie Ferguson has just blasted out Faf du Plessis with a 149kph yorker, a bona fide contender for the ball of the 2019 World Cup. Colin de Grandhomme then trundles up to the crease and gets the ball to wobble away at barely 115kph. Aiden Markram, the new batsman, throws his bat at the ball, but it gently swings away from his reach. Beaten.
De Grandhomme's slow-mediums are often likened to Chris Harris' and scoffed at, but hey when the conditions are ripe for swing, he can pose a threat to even the best batsmen. Case in point: his hooping inswinger that had a relatively set Hashim Amla falling over a flick in the 19th over. A hint of extra bounce meant the umpire ruled it not out, with the tracker returning umpire's call on leg stump. In the same over, de Grandhomme went much fuller and swerved one in onto Markram's pads, but this was heading past leg stump. That some balls were holding up on the pitch amplified de Grandhomme's threat.
Markram managed only 5 off 20 balls from de Grandhomme. Something had to give, and that something was Markram skewing a catch to sweeper cover. The batsman ventured down the track and aimed to biff the ball over the leg side, but de Grandhomme found just enough away movement to catch the outside half of the bat.
WATCH on Hotstar (India only) - Colin de Grandhomme's 60 v South Africa
On a similarly helpful track in Hamilton earlier this year, de Grandhomme toppled India's middle order with 3 for 26 in 10 overs. All told, since his return to ODI cricket in December 2016, after playing a solitary match in 2012, de Grandhomme has been New Zealand's second-best bowler in terms of economy rate - behind Mitchell Santner - for a minimum of 150 overs bowled.
While he kills 'em softly with the ball, he can be brutal with the bat and yet make it look nonchalant. That he has the tendency to find the boundary early in his innings lets the batsman at the other end breathe easy. When he walked into bat at Edgbaston, it was anybody's game, with New Zealand at 137 for 5 in the 33th over in pursuit of 242. The second ball he faced was overpitched alright by Chris Morris, but de Grandhomme walloped it away to the square-leg boundary with the stillest of heads and the smoothest of bat-swings.
He meted out similar treatment to Andile Phehlukwayo. Except this was bigger and mightier than the Avengers, providing a throwback to his rasping blow off Steven Mullaney that landed on the skyline terrace at the top of Edgbaston's main stand during his 27 off 19 balls for Birmingham Bears in the 2017 T20 Blast final at this very venue.
De Grandhomme's power meant his captain Kane Williamson could knock the ball to the fielders four times in a row and remain unperturbed by the asking rate. On a two-paced pitch where several frontline batsmen had struggled, de Grandhomme cracked a 39-ball fifty.
"He is our X-factor player," Williamson said of de Grandhomme at the post-match presentation. "He came in and hit the ball beautifully. He played a brilliant knock. De Grandhomme for me was the standout with his bowling and the impetus he gave us with the bat in the end."
De Grandhomme's big-hitting, in particular, has beefed up New Zealand's lower-middle order that came a cropper in the Champions Trophy two years ago. He is a man of very few words, but the method behind his six-hitting is as simple as he put it, after his match-turning 60: "I tend to see the ball and hit the ball and it worked."
Since his Test debut in November 2016, de Grandhomme has smashed 48 sixes in 52 international innings. Only Thisara Perera, Jos Buttler, Mahmudullah, Mohammad Nabi and Ben Stokes have hit more sixes than him in international cricket from Nos.5-7 in this period.
West Indies, who are armed with several big-hitters of their own, will now run into de Grandhomme. When the two sides met in a warm-up game last month, West Indies amassed 421 on an easy-paced hit-through-the-line track, where de Grandhomme had a limited role.
If the Old Trafford pitch offers a modicum of swing or seam, de Grandhomme could exploit West Indies' weakness against the moving ball although they can bat deep. If it's flat, like it was during the England-Afghanistan game, New Zealand still have James Neesham's hit-the-deck bustle to fall back on. The presence of two different pace-bowling allrounders has made New Zealand's attack one of the best in this World Cup, if not the best.
West Indies' bowlers, though, have to be more wary of de Grandhomme, the batsman. Their attack is largely one-dimensional and if they're planning to bounce him out, they would need to revisit that strategy, for de Grandhomme loves to sit deep in the crease and give it a good thump. He couldn't quite pick Imran Tahir's legbreak and his variations on Wednesday, but West Indies don't have a wristspinner to trouble him.
De Grandhomme didn't get a single game in the Champions Trophy in 2017, with Neesham and Corey Anderson preferred over him. Another telling all-round display from him now could help New Zealand take a giant stride towards the semi-finals in this World Cup.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo