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By Bharath Ramaraj
When a young and promising bowler arrives on the big stage, his performances would be usually shuttling between sheer brilliance and that occasional mediocrity. However, Mitchell McClenaghan of New Zealand is one seamer who has, in his brief career, touched stratospheric heights of glory almost every time he has played in One-Day Internationals (ODIs). McClenaghan has swung into action right from the start of his international career. He has snared 43 wickets at 20.04 in a mere 18 ODIs with a phenomenal strike-rate of 20.9. To make it even better, with his trail of breathtaking performances, he is on course to become one of the fastest to 50 wickets in ODIs.
A few years earlier, when the tall seamer from New Zealand was laid low with a serious back injury, there were question marks over him even charting a comeback into First-Class cricket. Those days, if someone had made a statement that he would be chasing a world record at some stage, even McClenaghan would have felt like it being a fantasy dream.
It was a cruel blow to a talented cricketer who was just about leaving his footprints on the First-Class stage by giving a good account of himself in 2008-09 season for Central Districts. It was only at the fag end of 2010-11season that McClenaghan came back from his injury hiatus to play in domestic cricket.
By the time he played his first ODI in South Africa in 2013, he was known as a strike force in New Zealand cricket. But in his first match against South Africa at Boland Park, he went one step further by helping a battered New Zealand line-up cause ripples in the cricketing circles with a nerve- wracking win against South Africa. With both teams locked in an intense battle, it was his four-wicket haul during South Africa’s innings that paved the way for that triumph.
Since then, he has virtually stalked batsmen by sending them back the pavilion every time they have taken the guard in the middle. He already has four four-fors and one-fiver next to his name. Let it be New Zealand playing South Africa, ICC Champions Trophy in England and the recently concluded series against the West indies, batsmen haven’t been able to work out a method to keep him away from taking wickets.
In the ICC Champions Trophy, despite New Zealand not being able to pull above their weight, McClenaghan touched regal heights. Their lone victory against Sri Lanka at Cardiff was engineered by McClenaghan himself. He swung it in the air and got just enough movement off the track by taking advantage of early moisture to trouble Sri Lankan batsmen. During the later overs of the match, he used his box of tricks including a few change up variations, extracted bounce by hitting back of a length and perhaps the left-arm angle helped him to keep Sri Lankan batsmen in check, and take four wickets in the game. In fact, his spell against Sri Lanka encapsulates the major strengths of his bowling.
Even in the recently concluded ODI series against West Indies, he was in fine fettle. He took his first five-for in his career at Eden Park, Auckland. Yes, there was an occasion at Hamilton when West Indian batsmen riding on their flair and panache thwacked his bowling all over the park and McClenaghan returned with sorry figures of 8 overs for 64 runs with no wickets to his name. When a bowler takes wickets most of the times he plays, it can be thought of as an anomaly.
With McClenaghan having played a mere 18 games, it is perhaps not right to visualise or glorify him as the next great world-class bowler coming through the ranks. Yet, with guts and gumption the way he has made it to the top of the bowling charts, gives genuine hope that he can indeed be a future star of the game.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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