NZ look up to left-arm 'trickster' Ben Lister to fill Trent Boult-sized hole
No active fast bowler in New Zealand domestic T20 cricket has a better economy rate than Ben Lister since he made his debut
Around the time Trent Boult could be in action for MI Emirates in the ILT20 in Sharjah on Friday, Benjamin Lister might make his international debut for New Zealand in Ranchi. Boult's decision to hand back his New Zealand central contract has somewhat accelerated Lister's path into the New Zealand side, as they begin their search for the next world-beating left-arm seamer.
Lister, 27, has been among the most promising bowlers in the Super Smash, New Zealand's premier domestic T20 competition, in the recent past. His economy rate of 8.06 is the second best among fast bowlers who have bowled at least 800 balls in the tournament since his debut for Auckland in December 2017. Only Hamish Bennett is ahead of Lister on this front, but Bennett is no longer an active player.
Okay, the Super Smash isn't quite on par with the other elite T20 tournaments in the world, but such control on the easy-paced pitches and small grounds in New Zealand should count for something. Lister also has an assortment of variations, including the cutter, the bouncer and the yorker, which has grabbed the attention of New Zealand's team management.
"Ben has really moved his game forward really nicely," Gavin Larsen said after selecting Lister in the New Zealand squad for the T20I series in India. "Over the last couple of years, we've watched him closely. With his performances for Auckland, we feel he has really advanced his game and ready for selection.
"In terms of selection, you're always looking for a broad mix of skillsets. So, in your pace department you want your genuine quick bowlers, you want swing bowlers - right and left-armers. Someone like Boulty - his record speaks for itself. He's been absolutely world-class and he's been one of our greatest ever. Ben is his own man. He's a new addition. Yes, he bowls with his left-arm as well, which is handy. He bowls with some pace and he swings the ball. We're excited about what that brings to our mix."
Devon Conway, who has seen Lister's progress in domestic cricket, talked him up as a left-arm trickster, ahead of the T20I series opener in Ranchi.
"Ben is this very skilful bowler," Conway said. "You know he's this left-arm seamer who does different tricks with the ball, which is so exciting to see. Hopefully, if he makes his debut, it will be a good opportunity for him. He's put in a lot of performances for a long period of time and so, yeah, it's great to have him in the group. He's a lovely guy too and we certainly look forward to the T20 competition."
The last time Lister toured India in 2022, with the New Zealand A side, he ended up in a hospital with pneumonia. Larsen, who was New Zealand A's manager for that trip, has now given Lister another chance to showcase his skills in India. And Lister is relishing the prospect of bowling to India's IPL superstars in front of huge crowds.
"The last tour with New Zealand A didn't go as planned," Lister recalled. "[I] ended up in a hospital. It's a pretty surreal feeling [to have been called up to the New Zealand squad]. Not many get the opportunity to play India in India. So, it will be a tough challenge but look I'll just soak it up and enjoy each moment."
Larsen lauds Lister for getting himself back in shape after the illness and putting up performances on the domestic scene.
"I spent a bit of time myself sitting next to Ben in his hospital room [in India]," Larsen said. "So, that was really unfortunate because that was a massive opportunity for him. And to his absolute credit, he has come home and has rehabbed really well. He has hit the ground running and he has moved his game forward. And we give him full accolades for that."
With Kyle Jamieson, Adam Milne, Matt Henry and Ben Sears still on the sidelines, this is Lister's chance to shine on the big stage against the big boys.
"[It] has been a dream to be part of the New Zealand side for as long as I remember to be honest," Lister said. "Having grown up watching the Black Caps and now to be called into the squad is a pretty cool moment."
An impactful performance or two could make it even cooler and potentially pique the interest of IPL scouts. Who knows?
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo