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Michael Rippon: 'As a spinner in New Zealand, you must learn to play a holding role'

The left-arm wristspinner talks about his move from Netherlands to New Zealand

Michael Rippon: "Jonathan Trott's dad first told me I could try my hand at left-arm spin"  •  Kerry Marshall/Getty Images

Michael Rippon: "Jonathan Trott's dad first told me I could try my hand at left-arm spin"  •  Kerry Marshall/Getty Images

Earlier this year, when left-arm wristspinner Michael Rippon represented Netherlands in ODIs against New Zealand, he was facing players he trains with all year round at Otago. Last month, the 30-year-old was named in New Zealand's squad for their limited-overs tour of Ireland. If he plays in the series, which starts today, it could be the latest upturn in a career that began more than 11 years ago in Cape Town. In this chat, Rippon talks about how he went from South Africa to New Zealand via the Netherlands.
Different countries, different experiences. It's been quite a journey for you.
It's quite cool, isn't it? I was born and raised in Cape Town but qualified to play for Netherlands thanks to my maternal grandfather, who moved there in the late 1970s. And then in 2017 I left South Africa to move to New Zealand on a short-term contract as a substitute player. I seriously didn't know then this is where I'd make a life and one day, maybe, play for the Black Caps.
How did you happen to start bowling left-arm wristspin?
I started off as a left-arm fast bowler, but I watched Shane Warne and Brad Hogg a lot growing up. It was Jonathan Trott's dad, Ian, who first told me I could try my hand at left-arm spin. I began with left-arm orthodox, but I felt like bowling left-arm wristspin, and the variations came naturally to me, so at representative cricket at the Under-15s, I made the switch.
How does one thrive as a spinner in New Zealand?
You must make peace with the fact that you won't always take bucketloads of wickets. You must learn to play a holding role, build pressure on batters. That is where I suppose my variations and left-arm wristspin come into the picture. There's a novelty factor initially, and just the art is such that there's always a bit of intrigue to it. If you can get it right, you can do a job across different types of conditions.
The drive to learn and better myself in challenging conditions is something I love. I want to make this opportunity count and take it step by step.
Devon's [Conway, also a South African-born New Zealand cricketer] an example of how if you are determined, you can achieve what you want. You saw him start the way he did last year, and the rest's history. I'm drawing inspiration from him.
How did you qualify to play for Netherlands?
Because I had a European passport, I was able to move to the United Kingdom for a county stint with Sussex. That is when word spread that I could qualify to play for Holland too. They asked me if I'd like to play for them, and I thought it was a great opportunity. From 2013 to 2016, I was part of the team's journey through the World Cricket League Division Two. Since we'd been relegated there, we were trying to qualify for WCL Division One.
Earlier this year, you were picked by Netherlands after more than three years.
Since Covid hit and I hadn't got my New Zealand residency, I couldn't leave the country [New Zealand], so that thwarted my ambition of playing for Netherlands at the T20 World Cup last year. Also, it clashed with our domestic schedule here. When Netherlands announced a historic tour to New Zealand, it all worked out wonderfully. I was in a lucky position. I had it clear to Netherlands of my ambition to play for New Zealand. They were understanding of it. Playing for them was a great chance to play at the international level.
Towards the end of that cycle, Anton Roux, a former Dutch international who was our coach, was taking up the role of assistant coach with Otago Volts. That is when my brush with New Zealand began.
I went over initially for just a month as cover for one of Otago's local players. I got to play and had a couple of good games. Because I enjoyed my time there, I looked at the possibility of staying for longer.
You inspired others to come over to New Zealand as well.
(Laughs). Yeah, it was around then I got a call from Devon, who asked me how life was in the country. I spoke glowingly about it, and that is when he too decided to come over. I thought he'd come to Otago, but he went over to Wellington.
What have been your takeaways from your Netherlands stint?
Associate cricket is cut-throat. In 2014 we finished outside the top six, so we lost ODI status and funding. I remember sitting in the team hotel after our loss to Kenya wondering what we'd do next. We had to find jobs. Some of the guys were contemplating studies. We didn't know where our future was. But then, we set ourselves a goal to be the best Associate and we went through a three-year cycle trying to achieve that. Of course, after the 2019 World Cup, the Super League came into being, which allowed us to play the top sides to have a shot at qualifying for the 2023 World Cup. But that's not going to go forward after the 2023 World Cup, so once again a lot of the players will be left wondering what next.
Was cricket your first sport?
I was too small to play rugby, so cricket and tennis were my summer sports and hockey my winter sport. When I was 15, Trott's dad saw the potential in me and got me playing cricket. I left hockey then and played cricket through the year. When I was 19, I got picked by the Cape Cobras for my first full year of professional cricket.
Conway came to New Zealand after you but qualified a lot earlier. How did that happen?
The visa I was on initially only allowed me to work in New Zealand. It was only in 2019 that I was able to switch to a talent visa, which, if you're on for three years, you're eligible to apply for residency. This March, my residency was approved, so New Zealand is my home now. I bought a house earlier this year. I've seen my career develop by leaps and bounds. The system is great, the people are wonderful, there's great culture. In terms of my career and my future, it's firmly planted here.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo