After being in the CPL and IPL bubbles for four months, Mitchell Santner is set to kick off the international home season with additional responsibilities. In the absence of both Kane Williamson and Tim Southee for the third T20I at the Bay Oval, Santner will step in as captain and with Ajaz Patel still under an injury cloud, the the spin-bowling allrounder has also been added to the Test squad.
Santner said that he was looking forward to his captaincy debut and dashing out of Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ). New Zealand's IPL contingent has cleared all three coronavirus tests and they leave Christchurch to join their national team-mates in Auckland on Thursday, a day before the T20I series opener against West Indies.
"Yeah, it's pretty cool obviously. It's a privilege to play for your country, let alone captain it," Santner said during a virtual media interaction. "Definitely very excited for the opportunity and looking forward to catch up with the boys tomorrow and join them in Auckland.
"Pretty confident [to resume playing], we've got a good group down here and we've had some help - Baz [Brendon McCullum] and stuff is here - which is good. We've had some great facilities in Lincoln that they've put on for us. It's been probably four months now [in biosecure bubbles] and I'm definitely ready to get out of here. Yeah, it's going to be pretty exciting to see the lads tomorrow and play some cricket again."
Santner has played 44 T20Is so far and is New Zealand's fourth-highest wicket-taker in the format, with 52 scalps, behind Southee, Nathan McCullum, and Ish Sodhi. He has also been part of the Chennai Super Kings side in the IPL in the past couple of years, and also made his CPL debut, for Barbados Tridents, earlier this year.
New Zealand coach Gary Stead said that Santner's T20 experience could make him a good captain as they plan for the future.
"I guess when we looked at a one-off game, we started looking at who were the people we were looking to the future and Mitch has a lot of experience through the Caribbean Premier League and IPL and being with the international team for a long period of time," Stead said. "So, it's somewhat a trial to find out how that goes and it's part of our planning towards further down the track when we look at the future as well. He's still a young man has plenty of time left in the game, so it's an opportunity to see how he performs in that role.
As for Santner, he said that he was open to leading New Zealand in the future if the management continues to rotate the players in T20Is.
"I've played a little bit of T20 cricket now under a few different captains, so it's a great experience to be able to do this and put my spin on it," Santner said. "T20 cricket is quite fickle and can be quite challenging at times, so definitely looking forward to the opportunity.
"I guess with the schedule we've got, we're obviously looking forward to the back-to-back World Cups coming up. I guess there's going to be a little bit of rotation with the Test boys coming and going. So, give me an opportunity in the future if the other guys aren't available as well."
While Santner conceded that life in the bubble has been difficult, he also reckoned that the past four months have given him a chance to pause and reflect.
"Yeah, I guess you tend to think about things a lot more. You've got a lot more time obviously, it shows how lucky we are in New Zealand to be back playing cricket. The bubble life can get quite challenging at times and you've got to remember the good things and stuff, so definitely looking forward to play in front of a crowd on Friday, something that I haven't done for four months or so."
Santner got only two games in the IPL, with the Super Kings failing to make the playoffs, but he said that he has learnt to "take the good with the bad".
On Friday, Santner will be facing West Indies' power-packed left-hander-heavy middle order. The visitors could potentially have three left-handers in their middle order, including Santner's Barbados team-mate Kyle Mayers. Santner hoped that the variations, which he has been working on, could come in handy against them.
"I was working on a few things over the IPL," Santner said. "We've had some great coaches over there and T20 cricket as a fingerspinner can be quite tough if you're only doing it one way. So, I think you need these different variations and options - probably not so much in Test cricket but definitely in T20 cricket, especially with the way West Indies are lining up with a lot of left-handers. It can be quite tough, so giving yourself an option to spin the ball the other way is quite the key."
Santner had been dropped from the Test squad earlier this year after he wasn't attacking enough in Australia. However, the return to home comforts on seamer-friendly pitches could allow him to play his usual holding role and give breaks to the fast bowlers.
"The role in New Zealand as a spinner is probably different to overseas," Santner said. "For me, to stamp my mark, I probably need to get some runs in the lower order and I guess the role of a spinner in New Zealand, if it doesn't spin, is to dry up an end and take some pressure off the seamers at the other end and get some runs."
In the injury-enforced absence of Colin de Grandhomme, New Zealand's batting appears lighter, but Santner backed himself to do the job at No. 7.
"Yeah, I think so [can bat at No.7]. BJ at No.6 is a great [option]. Pretty happy to bat behind him," Santner said. "If it is Killer [Kyle] Jamieson at 8, he scored some runs as well [last time]. We do bat pretty deep. The role at 7 is pretty similar to 8 - you have to bat with someone ahead of you and then maybe bat with the tail if you're still in. I've been working on my batting recently and, hopefully, I can show them."
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo