With 82 ODI wickets in 48 matches, he stands a chance to be the fastest New Zealander to 100 ODI scalps, but it is possible Mitchell McClenaghan may not even take a shot. His request to be released from a central contract to pursue a future in overseas T20 leagues has been accepted by New Zealand Cricket. This was almost a formality after McClenaghan had been picked up by Durban Qalandars in the new Global T20 league in South Africa. McClenaghan expects to play in the Big Bash League, which begins three days after the South African league ends on December 16.
While McClenaghan, 31, stays eligible for selection for New Zealand whenever available in the future, it is hard to envisage a time when he won't be busy playing in the T20 leagues. He has been an integral part of Mumbai Indians in the IPL, St Lucia Stars in the CPL and Middlesex in county cricket. Add two more leagues to his commitments, and the only time he might have left to play for New Zealand is in world events. A precedent of such a return is Daniel Vettori's participation in the 2015 World Cup.
Lockie Ferguson picked up the contract vacated by McClenaghan. New Zealand, top-ranked in T20Is and on No. 5 in ODIs, have a big limited-overs home summer lined up with Test series being cut to two each to make space for more limited-overs cricket. New Zealand are supposed to play 13 bilateral ODIs, six bilateral T20 internationals and a triangular series of T20Is with Australia and England. They will play only four Tests.
"Some new playing opportunities have arisen in the past few weeks, which mean my circumstances have changed," McClenaghan said. "I'm very grateful for the respect, understanding and goodwill which has underpinned my request to be released from my NZC contract. I've worked closely with NZC throughout the process, while also making it clear I still harbour ambitions of playing for New Zealand in the future."
The general manager of NZC High Performance, Bryan Stronach, suggested more releases are not unimaginable. "We have to recognise that, as the T20 game matures, specialists will want to explore the different opportunities that become available - and I think Mitch's case is symptomatic of that," Stronach said. "This agreement has been reached amicably and mutually; all parties understand the change in Mitch's circumstances, and he is released from his contract with our best wishes."
Unable to match the offers made by the global leagues, NZC remains flexible in its contracts when a player wants to choose leagues over international cricket. It means McClenaghan could have stuck with his national contract and obtained no-objection certificates whenever he wanted to play in other leagues, but that would mean being available for New Zealand in every small break between his leagues commitment.