Mike Hesson and New Zealand have a choice of style or substance

Mike Hesson, the New Zealand coach, has most of his 15-man World Cup squad ready. It is an important World Cup. It is at home, and people are talking up New Zealand’s chances.

In the first week of January, Mike Hesson, as mild-mannered as Clark Kent, will have a headache.

The New Zealand coach has most of his 15-man World Cup squad ready. It is an important World Cup. It is at home and people are talking up New Zealand’s chances.

New Zealand are talking themselves down. It has never been their style to talk themselves up.

Between now and then, Hesson and New Zealand have to make a choice, and it is a big one. It is the kind that comes to define not only coaches, captains and selectors, but a culture. It goes beyond winning or losing. The choice says: “This is how we play our cricket”.

The subject of that choice is the fast bowler Adam Milne. In brief, he is young and quick. But he is also green, and New Zealand are unusually blessed at the moment, as pace bowling options go.

Tim Southee and Trent Boult are in for sure. Behind them, for two spots probably, Milne competes with Kyle Mills, Matt Henry and Mitchell McClenaghan. It is complicated.

Mills is trusted and experienced but injured at the moment. Henry was the most successful bowler on either side in the five one-day internationals with Pakistan played in the UAE. McClenaghan is a left-arm option and acknowledged wicket-taker.

Hesson could take any two of them and justify it. Any combination will do New Zealand well.

Milne is something else, though. There is nothing more bracing in cricket than happening on a new, largely unseen and super-quick bowler. If you have ever allowed the evening breeze of Karachi to bring you to life, especially after sweating away the day, it is precisely that effect. The world becomes a better place.

Some fast bowlers, when they run in, can look pretty innocuous, even gentle. Chris Jordan, for example, is just awkward. Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav do not waddle in like Mohinder Amarnath, but the business end for them is the crease, through which they explode.

Others, you know from watching them run how quick they will be: Shoaib Akhtar, Brett Lee, Mike Holding. Mitchell Johnson’s six-second run-up is a telegram to the batsman. This guy, it says, is frightening. Milne is of this school. He has serious intent in his run, not at all the limbs-and-hair-flying of Afghanistan’s Shapoor Zadran but a streamlined menace. There can be no doubting what all that force means: quick, and more often than not, very quick.

He was very quick through the limited-overs games against Pakistan. He did not get the quantity of wickets, which seems a leitmotif of his career so far. But it is difficult not to believe that will be fixed the more he plays and learns.

He did have the best economy of all New Zealand’s front-line bowlers, which, even accounting for the relative lack of firepower in Pakistan’s top order, is a feat on these surfaces.

The standout spell was in Abu Dhabi in the fourth ODI. He took one wicket, but his owning of Younis Khan was worth more. Their battle was ultimately the game, Milne bowling nearly half of his allotted 60 balls at Younis (25) and conceding five singles.

He beat him for pace repeatedly, including one ball outside off to which Younis brought his bat down about a week late and a country away. That, too, with the form he has been in.

Milne has a thing for the greats. In only his second ODI, in November 2012, he got Kumar Sangakkara and troubled Mahela Jayawardene much as he did Younis.

There is no better time for him to be in the side, either, with Shane Bond as bowling coach. There is actually something very Bond about Milne, not just in that upright simplicity as he begins his action but also in the stripped-down style of bowling itself.

The kind of pace he generates, the kind of lengths he hits, the movement he gets will be familiar to anyone who saw Bond, New Zealand’s last true quick. It is so simple it looks both inevitable and easily repeatable, neither of which it is or was.

This is the headache, or maybe just a brain-tease. Do New Zealand risk and pick Milne, raw and fragile but potentially a tournament-changer? Or do they play safe and bide their time with him, because they have a strong pace attack in any scenario?

Choosing the former is what sets apart sides, though. The enduring genius of Imran Khan’s Pakistan, for instance, lay in these selections, where he deconstructed fast bowling. Be young, bowl fast, win match, worry later.

The game has changed, but genuine fast bowling, New Zealand should remind themselves, works the same way it always has.


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Published: December 24, 2014 04:00 AM


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