Williamson wants ‘exciting talent’ Allen to gain more experience to continue ‘upward trend’

Playing a high-profile series within days of finishing a World Cup isn’t new to New Zealand. Last year, within hours of playing the T20 World Cup final against Australia in Dubai, they were en route to India for a T20I series.

This year, they’ve had an “extra day or two” following their semi-final loss to Pakistan. The only difference this time is, they will be playing at home against India, with the first of the three T20Is beginning in Wellington on Friday.

Beginning a home summer with the shortest format, especially with a 50-over World Cup coming up in less than a year, could be seen as a sign of commerce taking priority over conventional wisdom. However, Kane Williamson believes, with world events coming thick and fast, teams are perpetually in a state of trying to find the right balance, format notwithstanding.

And that’s exactly what New Zealand have tried to address in picking their white-ball squads for the India series. The “crystal-ball gazing” – as head coach Gary Stead described – towards next year’s 50-overs World Cup in India has well and truly begun, and it has had a massive bearing on the Williamson-led squad.

Devon Conway has cemented his position as a reliable option up top, and New Zealand are gung-ho about 23-year-old Finn Allen partnering him. What that means for Martin Guptill‘s bid to play in a fourth ODI World Cup is anybody’s guess, but Williamson acknowledged that he was “one of New Zealand’s best white-ball players”, while also elaborating on the strengths Allen brings to the table.

“Finn’s a very exciting talent, it’s been great to see him in the side and expressing himself,” Williamson said at a media interaction organised by Prime Video. “You mentioned that Australian game [New Zealand’s T20 World Cup opener in Sydney] where he made an amazing contribution, and it went a long way in us getting ahead of the game. That’s a real strength of his, it’s natural for him in terms of how he plays.

“Being so young as well, you see so much potential and talent and getting more cricket under his belt is only going to be more helpful to nurturing that and continuing his upward trend as a player. He’s looking forward to this series as well. He certainly goes out with the intention of playing very aggressively and playing his game, has a lot of conviction in how he wants to go about it. It’s been great to see and am sure that will continue.”

Delving further into team specifics, Williamson admitted that Trent Boult‘s absence from the squad despite being available for selection was a reflection of the circumstances around his decision to opt out of New Zealand Cricket’s annual retainer, but he suggested it was by no means a full stop to his international career. The selectors have prioritised players with central contracts as they begin to look ahead.

“Obviously with the moving landscape we’re presented with at the moment, players have made a number of different decisions,” Williamson said. “Trent, being a big part of our team, has done that. Although available, he’s got a few other things to focus on within the next period of time. There’s an opportunity at the moment with other guys on the fringe to get some opportunity and for us building and growing as a team is really important, but it’s all a bit new as well and there’s a lot of learning to be had over the next period, but Trent’s obviously a big part of the New Zealand cricket environment and has been for a long time. I think it’s going to be an important thing to learn and understand how it looks over the next period.”

Adam Milne returns to the ODI set-up for the first time since 2017, having battled through several injuries. With Kyle Jamieson still recovering from a back injury, the other pace slots have gone to Tim Southee, Matt Henry (ODIs only), Lockie Ferguson and Blair Tickner.

“Adam Milne has been a really strong performer for a number of years, unfortunately had a few injuries along the way,” Williamson said. “He’s a super-talented athlete when fully fit and diving. Great to have him in the squad, he’s ready to go, great addition. Blair Tickner has been more involved in the last few years in a number of formats, so the bowling depth is reasonably strong and it’s nice to see some of these guys get a few opportunities.”

Allrounder James Neesham finds himself in the mix despite not having a contract, but his situation is different to Boult’s. When Neesham wasn’t offered a central contract, he began looking at prospective T20 deals around the world. But with Colin de Grandhomme retiring, Neesham was presented with a contract, which he had to decline since he had already secured T20 deals.

Elsewhere, in picking just one frontline spinner in Mitchell Santner in their ODI squad (although they also have the allrounder Michael Bracewell), New Zealand have given a peek into their horses-for-courses approach as they build into the series. “I’ve always been a believer that addressing what’s in front of you is a pretty good place to start in terms of preparation, and as you get further down the line you start changing that focus,” Williamson explained. “Tournament sport, as we’ve seen in the T20 World Cup, you’ve to adjust and look to pivot and make those changes quickly.

“There’s a lot of planning that goes into that, as a team, focusing on plans important to you in terms of continuing to grow and trend in the right direction is really important. The one-day cricket we have between now and then is valuable in terms of trying to do that.”

At a personal level, Williamson seemed reasonably happy with where his fitness is, having battled a troublesome elbow injury for over two years. He reiterated his focus and drive to be involved in all three formats at the moment, even though New Zealand have just ended one T20 World Cup cycle.

“The elbow is improving, it certainly took quite a long time, but I’m feeling a lot better now,” he said. “I think as a player, generally certain things in life change and when you get further down the line, you’re always looking to make decisions based on making sure you stay fresh.

“I certainly love playing all formats and the challenges those bring, and at the same time with such a high volume of cricket, there’s a balance to strike. Maybe less in terms of specific formats, more in terms of how you do manage your time to the best of your ability. There’s a lot on and that’s for a lot of players around the world. Need to make sure there’s that freshness and balance.”

Watch India’s tour of New Zealand live and exclusive on Prime Video from November 18-30.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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