Opener Finn Allen was among the few batting positives for New Zealand in the recently concluded low-scoring T20I series in Bangladesh. While he missed the first two matches to complete his recovery from Covid-19, he returned to make scores of 15, 12 and 41 in spin-friendly Dhaka surfaces.
New Zealand’s stand-in coach Glenn Pocknall, who has overseen Allen’s progress at Wellington Firebirds, believes the 22-year old batter has benefited from his stint with the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the first half of the IPL. Allen won’t return to the UAE for the second half of IPL 2021. Instead, he is on tour with the national team to Pakistan.
“Yeah, really good,” Pocknall said of Allen’s growth. “He’s shown the benefit of some time in the IPL although he didn’t play any games. He had a couple of months in their environment with a couple of class players in (Virat) Kohli and (AB) de Villiers, so he’s come back from that experience a lot better player in terms of I guess his mentality around how he prepares and also his mentality around how he goes about building an innings in white-ball cricket.
“Looking forward to see what he can bring here in these [Pakistan] wickets. If they do have a bit more pace and bounce that will suit his natural game, which he has done well in New Zealand. So, hopefully he can carry on the form that he showed in the T20 the other night.”
Allen regularly jumped across his stumps in the fifth T20I and peppered the leg-side boundary. After cracking three sixes and four fours, Allen went searching for another boundary and was bowled by Shoriful Islam off the last ball of the powerplay. Pocknall said that Allen was just true to his game and backed him to make the right decisions with experience.
“It’s within his game plan and I guess you live by the sword, you die by the sword,” Pocknall said. “He plays it once and gets six and then four-five balls later, he plays it and gets out. So, managing the risk vs reward, which in the moment he has to decide.
“Generally, he plays it very well, so I guess it’s weighing up all the risks and weighing up the reward and then him making an instant decision whether it’s in his game plan or not. That’s the challenge for all batsmen – keep that clear head and watch the ball and let their reactions take over.”
New Zealand are well-prepared for the forthcoming three-match ODI series in Pakistan, having dealt with the Dhaka turners, where the batters built or rebuilt innings by picking off ODI-style singles and doubles. Pocknall doesn’t want to tinker too much and just wants the side to sustain their intensity for longer periods in Rawalpindi.
“The main differences are doing things for longer – bowling our best ball for longer and batting for longer,” Pocknall said. “We feel we had a really good introduction in Bangladesh to this ODI series just because of what it was – almost a mini-ODI given the conditions. We feel pretty prepared in that regard and not looking to make too many chances.
“Instead of having an innings of 20 balls, we want a batsman to have an innings of 100-plus balls. Instead of a bowler bowling four overs with a good line and length, we want him to do that for six-eight overs in a spell.
“Likewise with the fielding, it’s going to be three hours in the field as opposed to an hour and 20 [minutes], so being tuned in mentally for three hours every ball will be something that we will be talking about as a unit.”
Pocknall was also pleased with how New Zealand are shaping up for the T20 World Cup although he felt that there were several contenders for the title.
“New Zealand have a very settled and well-performed squad for the Twenty20 arena,” he said. They’ve certainly been playing very well in the last couple of years, so the big test not just for the New Zealand team will be the adjustment to what the conditions are like and I guess especially after a second half of the IPL being played over there.
“So, a number of teams are going to be in for it. I can see at least six to eight teams competing for the World Cup, which is a great thing for world cricket. There’s so many teams that’re being spoken about in terms of the tournament.
“New Zealand have been performing really well over the last couple of years and they’ll go into that tournament like they have the ones ones – with a lot of confidence to put their best foot forward.”
Pocknall, who had coached the Firebirds to back-to-back Super Smash title victories, said that he doesn’t have to be a “jack of all trades” when being in charge of the national side and that he has had to focus largely on strategising with captain Tom Latham.
“The main difference [between domestic and international coaching] is a lot more gets done for you at this level. I guess it makes my job a lot easier – I can just rock up and tell people what to do in the nicest possible way. There’s just a lot more resources available in terms of coaching staff and management.
“You turn up to the ground and everything is laid out in terms of drinks, gears, hotels, meals – everything is done for you. So from that respect, yeah, it has been good because domestically it’s not like that you are a jack of all trades – doing every little bits and pieces.
“That allowed me to sit a little bit more above everything and look at things a bit more strategically along with Gary (Stead) back home in New Zealand – look at selection, look at planning for this team and planning for the World Cup.
“I’ve really enjoyed that and certainly enjoyed working with Tom Latham – a very experienced international cricketer. To sit side by side with him and talk cricket and tactics and game plans has been pretty cool. It’s been a dream to be honest – watching a player that I’ve idolised on the TV and having the opportunity to work with him [now].”
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo