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Feature

Santner flexes his muscles as New Zealand strengthen their spin stocks

Allrounder pleased with his own progress as a batter and with the new players coming through

Deivarayan Muthu
20-Jan-2023
In the absence of Jimmy Neesham, who is currently with Pretoria Capitals for the SA20, and Colin de Grandhomme, who has retired from international cricket altogether to become a free agent, New Zealand have turned to their spin-bowling allrounders for depth. Both Michael Bracewell and Mitchell Santner fired with the bat in the first ODI in Hyderabad, countering an early collapse with a 162-run partnership for the seventh wicket. They got together when New Zealand were 131 for 6 in a chase of 350 and helped take their side to within two sixes of levelling India's score.
Bracewell's big-hitting was so clean that it has attracted the attention of IPL insiders as well. As for Santner, he has improved his own power, which has been on display in Hyderabad, Karachi and Queenstown over the past month. Smashing more sixes in the nets - he repeatedly pumped his team-mates over the straight boundary in Raipur - and batting up the order for Northern Districts in the Super Smash have helped Santner add more muscle to his game.
"At No. 7 or 8, you come in from ball one and have to hit," Santner said at the pre-match press conference. "You want to prepare to play and train for your role and that's what I do. In the nets, [I] try to hit some sixes.
"I guess being an allrounder you need to be able to chip in with both, and I guess in the last year or so, getting more opportunity to bat has helped. It can be quite challenging at times if you are down the bottom with three-four overs left, but getting more of an opportunity for ND (Northern Districts) has been helpful as well. I guess if I can chip in with some runs at the end, it's good for the team."
Santner is also prepared to work his way into an innings and be a bit more calculative, which he did during in the early stages on Wednesday. "The other night when you have more time to bat, you can get into your innings a little bit. I guess with that role you can come in with 15 overs left or come in with two overs left. So, you have to be able to do both."
Santner and Bracewell are giving New Zealand more options with the ball. Both can operate in the powerplay as well as in the middle overs. If Ish Sodhi recovers sufficiently from an ankle injury sustained during the third ODI in Karachi, the legspinner could potentially replace one of the quicks to form a three-man spin attack on what might be spin-friendly pitch in Raipur. Outside of the current squad, New Zealand have left-arm fingerspinner Rachin Ravindra and left-arm wristspinner Michael Rippon on the fringes. They seem well stocked to deal with a World Cup in India.
"Yeah, it's a nice thing to have - the depth of three spinners in the squad is very handy," Santner said. "We don't know what the wicket is going to play like, but if it does spin, then we have options and if it doesn't, we've got Beast [Bracewell] who can bat extremely well and obviously the other night…Having the two allrounders as fingerspinners adds depth to both bowling and batting."
With Tim Southee resting ahead of the home Tests against England and Trent Boult having handed back his national contract to become a freelancer, New Zealand are using this tour to identify their second line of quicks and tick a few other boxes. At the same time, they are focussed on winning the next two ODIs to clinch the series.
"Having a World Cup and being able to play a series is pretty important, but we know it's extremely hard to win here [in India]," Santner said. "That is what we want to do - we want to be able to win this series and the T20 series and then we want to look at some combinations going forward and see what the wickets do. We know come World Cup time, the wickets could be flat, like we saw in the first ODI, so I guess that is in the back of the mind but at the forefront, it's try to win the series."
The conditions in Raipur could be an unknown quantity - Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh Stadium is set to host its first international match on Saturday - but the size of the ground gives spinners a chance. At the Rajiv Gandhi stadium, Santner and Bracewell had to be careful about bowling too full because the straight boundaries were rather small. Here, they won't have to be so fussy.
"Nobody really knows what it's going to be like tomorrow," Santner said. "I guess you try and weigh up whether the dew is really going to be much of a factor second innings versus obviously put runs on the board. But I guess we have to turn up tomorrow and see what the wicket looks like. It [The pitch] was under cover today, and the nets was pretty good. Probably a bit more bounce in Hyderabad and let's hope it spins."
If it does spin, Santner, Bracewell and perhaps Sodhi will be looking to hush India's batting superstars and a sellout Raipur crowd.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo