Blackcaps, on the surface of things, have a busy cricketing year coming up, with a two test series at Zimbabwe in July, followed by a two test series versus South Africa in August and a 3 test 5 ODI programme in October in India. Yeah I know that curly 2 tests series, the sooner it's a mandatory 3 test series the better.
Our team is on the up big time, and with a good stock in the A Team, and ample back up, we're better placed to take on the two African sides on their soil. However, the last time we visited South Africa we had just replaced our captain and we go there again with a new Captain. Dare we grimace at this state of affairs? Well personally I find our position now 200% better than we were then. It's fair to say we go there better prepared than before. So what of preparation?
We have eleven 1st squad players playing in mainly county cricket, batsmen and bowlers. Of those eleven 4 or 5 are playing in IPL currently, although one is "retired" and ineligible for test honours. With county cricket we have players batting and bowling and seemingly in good nick and match fit for the African tour. This should tilt our ability to get a win on South African spoil (the first since 1994, previous was 1962) Now is as good a time as any to decapitate the South African juggernaut (yes they have had player changes). I want a 1-1 or better still 1-0.
Believe it or not, we haven't played a test in Zimbabwe since 2011 on their soil. I think it's fair to say that we are light years ahead of them in class and ability. But they do seem to be on an upward spiral. Fair to say they have been playing a lot in West Indies and their player base is limited but as with any international team. Respect!! We have remained unbeaten in all our tests in Zimbabwe, closest for them is 2 draws. They must be desperate to catch us unprepared.
There's a break of over 30 days then to the next trial, away tests (3) and ODI's (5) series on the subcontinent, hosted by BCCI. India, ranked 2nd in Test rankings versus Blackcaps (5th) have the very big upper hand with the last win on Indian soil in 1998, and before that 1969. Putting it delicately, we need at least one win. So what's different. In the past, we went to India with only one spinner. As was seen in recent matches, we can safely pick 3. I think this October tour will be a watershed in Blackcaps history. They have a very good batting unit, yet though to be tested on their pitches but all they need to do is stymie their batting and do enough with the bat to give the bowlers something to defend.
So what of this preparation? IPL isn't a gauge for first class cricket, but with County cricket well underway and Blackcaps featuring it's highly likely we hit African teams with form and much needed matchplay. We should look at the July and August matches with confidence. If we leave those matches behind with a series win and a series draw, then the ripe avocado that is Indian cricket will be worth the picking.
This is the year of the Blackcap, under Captain Kane.