Published on February 26th, 2018 | by Rohit Sankar0
Santner underlines value of bits and pieces cricketers for New Zealand
“Even as the World emphasizes on specialists in both departments, New Zealand keep churning out these ‘bits and pieces’ players, who, when it matters, show ice-cool temperament and steely grit to keep the Black Caps flag flying high”.
The Black Caps team of the late 1990s was a circus, a myriad of cookies in various shapes and sizes, serving different roles in the same side. While teams were moving onto specialists, New Zealand stuck to their ‘bits and pieces’ cricketers.
Chris Harris, Gavin Larsen, Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan, Jacob Oram, Kyle Mills, Dion Nash, Roger Twose, Andre Adams, Scott Styris….the list went on and on.
While most teams beefed up their top order with high impact batsmen and kept their fast bowlers and spinners as specialists, New Zealand resorted to a different armoury. They would have a reliable, yet not a jaw-dropping, top order and a few handy seamers. But the belly of the batting line-up had a slew of these ‘bits and pieces’ cricketers.
It seemed bizarre that a country with such a small population could churn out cricketers who could do both decently well at a regular frequency. Even more surprising was the grit, temperament and tenacity of these bits and pieces cricketers.
While most teams had lost the plot at 100 for 5, with New Zealand you never know when they were out of the game. A Chris Harris or Daniel Vettori might walk in with the team five down and add a further 100 runs to the total.
This alone made the Kiwis the dark horse in most tournaments. They had cricketers who would fight till their last breath and give their all. It wasn’t about skills alone. It was about mental strength and the ability to consistently back themselves as a group. To put it crisply, Black Caps were a “team”.
These bits and pieces cricketers blend in and contributed as a group. Unity was their strength and this made the Kiwis a tough nut to crack despite them lagging behind in so many other aspects of the game.
Take a bow Mitchell Santner – victory from the jaws of defeat @BLACKCAPS
— Andrew Gourdie (@AndrewGourdie) February 25, 2018
A few years down the lane, New Zealand cricket changed and the onus, as was the case with other teams, rested on few brilliant batsmen and specialist bowlers. The retirement of Daniel Vettori possibly changed the landscape of New Zealand cricket and they were no longer a team of bits and pieces players.
To say they thrived under Brendon McCullum would be an understatement. They rocked the World stage with a fearless brand of cricket and they blasted their way to a World Cup final. In Tests, they became a formidable unit under the flamboyant McCullum but his retirement has turned New Zealand cricket’s clock backwards.
A slew of bits and pieces cricketers are making their way back into the Kiwi side and this time it seems like they are here to rekindle the spark of the 1990s yet again. The most formidable of these players is Mitchell Santner, an innocuous, neither-a-batsman-nor-a-bowler cricketer with a tremendous attitude and a penchant for standing up when it matters.
Being it batting at 6 in the Test line-up or putting in a long spell under the scorching sun in India against some wristy, World-class batsmen, Santner is game. His record is nothing special, his contributions on an individual level is rather ordinary but when it comes to standing up for his team, he sizzles.
At Seddon Park on Sunday, New Zealand were faced with one such situation where it required one of these cricketers to put their hands up and deliver the job Ross Taylor and Tom Latham had come so close to doing themselves.
In came Mitchell Santner. He assisted Taylor in the initial part of his innings but when the well-settled middle-order batsman walked off after his century, New Zealand still needed 41 in 24 balls.
That equation came down to 34 in 28 balls after a tight Tom Curran over. With Adil Rashid turning the ball back into Santner, he knew that the moment had arrived to stamp his presence in the game.
Mitchell Santner!!! Thanks for coming!!!
— Laura McGoldrick (@lauramcgoldrick) February 25, 2018
Two bludgeoning strokes from Santner with a clean bat swing resulted in two sixes off the first two balls. The equation had changed completely and the balance had firmly tilted New Zealand’s way. With nine needed off the last over, Santner, cool as a cucumber, blasted Chris Woakes for a four off the first ball and then sealed the game with a six two balls later. A 27 ball 45 with four sixes had won the game for Kiwis on a sluggish wicket where chasing 285 never seemed easy.
He had earlier gotten rid of Jason Roy and Ben Stokes in ten tidy overs of left-arm spin.
“Mitchell Santner is a massive part of our plans, there are so many traits in him that I see in his play that is very reminiscent of Vettori, even down to their body language, they are very same coming from the same part of New Zealand, i.e Northern Districts. He’s a very smart, savvy cricketer, still very young and in a way, still cutting his teeth into international cricket. We won’t really position him where we could.. use Santner at first-class level for ‘x’ number of years before we felt he was ready to transition into international cricket. Probably, he got called in a lot earlier than one thought, so he’s learning his craft on the big stage, which isn’t easy. He has a lot of work-ons and he is aware of it. His bowling is getting better and we want him to develop his batting, so that we can push him to that No. 8 spot in Test cricket and float for us in white-ball”, Gavin Larsen had once told.
— BLACKCAPS (@BLACKCAPS) February 25, 2018
Even as the World emphasizes on specialists in both departments, New Zealand keep churning out these ‘bits and pieces’ players, who, when it matters, show ice-cool temperament and steely grit to keep the Black Caps flag flying high. Mitchell Santner isn’t exactly a Glenn Maxwell or a Moeen Ali, but when it matters more often not he joins the party and pops it right open. That’s all the Kiwis would want from him.