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Dane Cleaver's chance to step out of cousin Kane's big shadow

The wicketkeeper-batter has been handed a "surreal" chance to make an New Zealand debut because of the absence of a number of IPL-bound players

Deivarayan Muthu
Dane Cleaver of Central Stags during the Super Smash T20 match against Otago Volts, Napier, December 18, 2021

Dane Cleaver of Central Stags during the Super Smash T20 match against Otago Volts  •  Getty Images

It has been an eventful few weeks for Dane Cleaver. In February this year, he became a dad, and around mid-March, he made his captaincy debut for Central Districts, against Northern Districts, in the four-day Plunket Shield. Nearly two weeks later, he is preparing to make his international debut for New Zealand, against Netherlands, at his domestic home ground of McLean Park, in front of his friends and family.
Blair Tickner, Doug Bracewell and Will Young, Cleaver's team-mates at Central Districts, are also part of New Zealand's squad, drafted in because of the absence of a number of seniors who are gearing up for IPL 2022. Their presence adds to the celebratory mood in the New Zealand camp.
"Yeah [starting to sink in], absolutely. Just being around the group and I suppose dreaming of this moment and hopefully getting the opportunity on Friday night [in the one-off T20I]," Cleaver, a wicketkeeper-batter, said. "Yeah, there's a pretty excited bunch of family members that are organising their way over for Friday night. So, it will be very special to amongst not only friends and family but just home crowd in general."
Cleaver heard the news of his call-up from selector Gavin Larsen. "Gavin Larsen gave me the call and just, I suppose, ran me through the possibility and the squad selection," Cleaver said. "It was a pretty surreal moment really - I suppose something you always aspire to and all that time and effort, love for the game, trainings, travel, everything sort of culminates in that. Yeah, [it] took a while to sink in and now that I'm here, it's really exciting."
Sure, this is a second-string New Zealand side, but the 30-year-old Cleaver's call-up is reward for his toil in domestic and A-team cricket. He was part of New Zealand's squad in the 2010 Under-19 World Cup alongside Michael Bracewell. More than a decade later, the pair could make their international debuts together, against Netherlands. Fun fact: in the 2008 Under-19 World Cup, it was Cleaver's first cousin Kane Williamson, who captained New Zealand.
Cleaver has now played nearly 200 games across formats for Central Districts and is seen as a senior figure in the set-up. He brings with him strong Super Smash form: he hit 369 runs in nine innings at an average of 46.12 and a strike rate of 166.21 in the latest edition. Only Bracewell scored more runs than Cleaver. Cleaver was particularly brutal in the middle overs; his middle-overs strike rate of 171.52 was the best among batters who had faced at least 100 balls in the season.
"Yeah, absolutely [confident ahead of a possible international debut]," Cleaver said. "I think playing Netherlands [in the warm-ups] last week - you see the quality in their side and also the fact that you can stack up against an international side and taking that form from domestic into this... I suppose it's just another game of cricket and just got to prepare the best you can and hopefully have some fun."
The weather in Napier, though, could spoil the fun, as it did during the third warm-up fixture against Netherlands.
"You've got to take in a bit of a what-will-be-will-be attitude," Cleaver said. "You can't control the weather - so you got to prepare the best you can and I'm pretty positive that it will turn around in the next couple of days and we get some good cricket on Friday night."
New Zealand have a rich stable of wicketkeeper-batters - Tim Seifert, Devon Conway, Tom Blundell, Glenn Phillips, Finn Allen - but this is Cleaver's chance to shake things up, and step out of his illustrious first cousin's shadow, ahead of twin World Cups.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo