NZ’s Robinson, Foxcroft and Hay train in Chennai as transition to next generation looms

New Zealand

Two days after New Zealand’s golden era ended in Tarouba, some members of their next generation were hard at work in Chennai. The city in south India has become something of a satellite office for New Zealand cricket in India, thanks to the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) connection.

Spin-bowling allrounder Dean Foxcroft, top-order batter Tim Robinson and wicketkeeper-batter Mitch Hay, three of New Zealand’s brightest young talents, were countering local spinners with a variety of sweeps at both the indoor and outdoor nets at the Super Kings Academy. The trio spent two weeks in Chennai with an old friend Sriram Krishnamurthy, the former New Zealand A and Wellington coach who is currently the coach of the Super Kings Academy at CSK, and Paul Wiseman, NZC’s talent ID manager, getting exposed to black- and red-soil pitches and playing T20 games against Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) sides.

With New Zealand in rebuild mode following the first-round exit at the T20 World Cup – and with the team scheduled to play Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and India in the subcontinent over the next four months – this was a good time for the next-gen New Zealand batters to spend the winter on slow, turning pitches.

Foxcroft, 26, and Robinson, 22, have already played for New Zealand, while Hay, 23, is on the fringes of national selection, having impressed both in the four-day Plunket Shield and white-ball cricket for Canterbury. Hay averages over 46 after 19 first-class games, while he has a strike rate of almost 150 after 28 T20s. He is also a capable wicketkeeper, but sweeping spin isn’t something that comes naturally to him. He practices every variety of the shot, including the reverse, even in damp conditions following an overnight shower.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a natural sweeper, but having the exposure here is a great opportunity to learn from the coaches,” Hay tells ESPNcricinfo on the sidelines of a training session. “Sri [Sriram] has been amazing with his knowledge of conditions in both India and New Zealand. So it’s been a good challenge to learn some different shots and different strategies on wickets that are spinning a lot more than at home.

“In New Zealand, you can potentially stand up and hit through the line easier. The biggest takeaway for me against spin is trying to get low because the bounce is variable. We’ve also been trying to use the crease, and as Sri alluded to, a lot of Indian batsmen are good from the crease – playing deep but also coming out on the front foot to get really close to the ball. For me, it’s about staying low, and when the length is there, get into a strong position on the back foot to manoeuvre the ball.”

Robinson, who is bit of a Finn Allen clone, has also picked up cues to tackle spin and expand his game. “I think for the sweep, I like to get outside the line of the ball and try not to get in front of the stumps,” Robinson says. “I also think it’s quite important to commit to the shot quite late so you can adjust to the length of the ball and then your own stride.

“For me, naturally at home in New Zealand, it’s a sweep-on-line thing, and the need to sweep is not as big there as it is here. So it’s something that we all are trying to develop, and it’s about using the right tools on the right wicket at the right time.”

Robinson is a natural athlete. He won junior and senior titles in the javelin throw along with his brother Cam Robinson back in the day. In the most recent Super Smash, he had success throwing his bat at the ball for Wellington at the top, and was immediately called up to the New Zealand T20I squad for the Pakistan tour earlier this year in the absence of the IPL-bound players. Robinson admits that his life changed after he cracked 139 off 64 balls, with ten sixes, against Otago Volts in the Super Smash, the second-highest score in the tournament’s history. Robinson, though, might not have achieved the landmark without some help from Foxcroft.

“Foxy dropped one at long-on, and he bowled the sixth over in the powerplay as well, which was a little bit of a kick-start (laughs). But no, I think it was just one of those things that came off and I had a little bit of a luck,” Robinson recalls. “I suppose that’s T20 cricket as well. You got to ride your luck and make it count when things do go your way. It was well and truly my day, but there was luck going my way and I ended up getting through it unscathed. But yeah, it was a life-changing sort of day for me.”

Foxcroft is the most experienced among the trio, having also won the PSL with Lahore Qalandars and been part of the Oman T10 league. Covid-19 had locked him out of New Zealand for almost two years, but he is now making up for lost time, learning from every experience.

“Pakistan and India are a bit different in terms of conditions,” Foxcroft says. “In Pakistan, the wickets are bit skiddier than here. Wherever you go, you’ve got to adapt quick enough to the conditions and understand your game better, which will be helpful when I come back and play on these wickets.”

Foxcroft bowls quickish offspin and tested it out against TNPL team Nellai Royal Kings during a T20 game. In the 2023-24 Super Smash, he bowled just 6.2 overs in ten matches for Otago, but is working towards becoming a genuine allrounder.

“Yeah, it [the bowling] has been coming out nicely,” Foxcroft says. “It’s a great time to come out to India and work on it. I want to be the No.1 allrounder, [and contribute] in both departments. Hopefully, I can get a five-for and a Test hundred or whatever, but I want to keep developing [the bowling] and get better at it at every training. It’s great to learn from Sri, the Chennai Super Kings coaches, [and bowling] different variations and different lengths.”

Foxcroft and Robinson go “Ooooh!” when Hay’s lofty first-class average is brought up. While Canterbury have produced a number of fast bowlers for New Zealand – right from Kyle Jamieson to Zak Foulkes – in the recent past, Hay could well be the next international batter from the domestic side.

“That’s the ultimate goal: to represent the country and play for the Black Caps,” Hay says. “But there’s also a lot of things before that. To improve my strengths and keep working on my weaknesses and get better overall as a player… those sorts of things. Selection will look after itself, so I guess in a way it’s nice to take the focus away from that and put it on myself to get better so that when I do get the opportunity, I’m ready to perform.”

With Kane Williamson giving up his New Zealand central contract to become a freelancer, and a number of other players ageing, Foxcroft, Robinson and Hay will likely get their opportunities in the next few months.

New Zealand’s lack of proper preparation for the T20 World Cup in the West Indies came into sharp focus last month, but their young batters might not be underdone when they would revisit the subcontinent for a longer trip later this year.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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