‘Adaptable’ Munro sets sights on World Cup slot

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Colin Munro soaks in his third T20I hundred (Getty Images)

ESPNcricinfo– When Grant Elliott was playing a blinder against South Africa to launch New Zealand into the 2015 World Cup final, Colin Munro, who had missed out on a place in the national squad, was shellacking a record 23 sixes while scoring 281 from 167 balls for Auckland against Central Districts in the four-day Plunket Shield.

Having given up red-ball cricket earlier this year – despite averaging 51.58 – and established himself as a white-ball specialist, Munro has now set his sights on nailing down his spot for the 2019 World Cup.

“I first need to cement my spot in the World Cup team,” Munro tells ESPNcricinfo. “There are some big games coming up for me and the team leading into that World Cup. Just want to put my best foot forward. If I’m there, I obviously want to go all the way. That means I’ve to go out there and play differently on certain days, and be a dasher at the top on others; I’m pretty happy to be adaptable.”

Munro is no longer that one-trick pony who smashes the new ball and throws his wicket away after a start. He showed signs of adaptability during his title-winning stints with Trinbago Knight Riders in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) and Balkh Legends in the inaugural Afghanistan Premier League (APL).

On a slow, cracked pitch in Basseterre, Munro watched Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine fall inside five overs against St Kitts & Nevis Patriots. He sized up the conditions with his mentor Brendon McCullum and worked his way to a 41-ball fifty – his slowest in T20 cricket. He then cracked 26 off his last nine balls, setting the scene for Dwayne Bravo’s late burst, and TKR’s fourth successive victory. Munro finished with an unbeaten 76 off 50 balls at a control factor of 80% on a tricky surface.

Munro made an unbeaten half-century in the final too, helping TKR become the first back-to-back champions in the CPL. He cleverly saw off Sohail Tanvir and spinners Chris Green and Imran Tahir before laying into the floaty medium-pace of Rayad Emrit, whom he took for 36 off 10 balls. This mix of brain and brawn has unlocked another dimension in his white-ball game.

“In about 50-60% of the games in the CPL, I had to tone myself down and play myself in,” Munro says. “There was one of those games where I got 76 not out and got TKR over the line. To be able to finish the game and be there at the end is very pleasing. Numerous times with about 10-15 runs to get, I have given my wicket away before.

“It’s all about adapting to the conditions. Sometimes back home [in New Zealand] and also in Australia, you get really true and flat wickets, where you could go out and smash it from ball one, but during the CPL the wickets were different. So, you have to give yourself more time – five or ten balls to get in – and it’s the same in the Afghanistan Premier League. I’m just trying to give myself the best opportunity to score big runs rather than going out and getting a nice little 30 or 50 in 20 balls. Just trying to convert those fifties into bigger scores.”

Like his batting, Munro’s bowling has evolved as well. He wasn’t needed to bowl at the CPL or APL, but he did introduce his knuckleball to the world during the India tour last year and pitched in with some useful wickets for Hampshire in the Vitality Blast 2018.

“My bowling is also coming along nicely,” he says. “I’m not bowling that much in these leagues, but internationally I’ve been bowling a fair bit now. Hopefully, I can start bowling more in leagues and become the guy who can bowl two or three overs. I have developed the knuckleball. I don’t bowl fast. So, it’s easier for me to deceive the batsman with a slower knuckleball or a cutter with little change in my action. Bowling it a few ks slower or making the batsman think the pitch is a bit two-paced could bring a wicket.”

Although Munro has become a sought-after white-ball player, oppositions have identified his weakness against wristspin. In the past two years in T20 cricket, he has managed only 253 off 211 balls at a strike-rate of 119.9 against wristspinners while being dismissed 12 times. Munro attributes this to not having faced many such bowlers back home in New Zealand.

“When the ball is turning both ways, it’s especially difficult to read,” he says. “You come up against left-arm wristspinners, guys with funny actions, and so it’s something you have to train a lot against. Back home, we aren’t blessed with too many legspinners. We have Ish Sodhi and [Todd] Astle and [Tarun] Nethula but nobody else [of that quality] you could train against and work on it. The wickets in New Zealand don’t really turn as well. In T20s, it is really tough because you can’t defend and play them out. You have to keep scoring. You need to find a way and there will be times when you will get out against them.”

But, Munro has trained with Shadab Khan at TKR, Mujeeb Ur Rahman at Hampshire and Qais Ahmad at Balkh Legends. Have these stints boosted his confidence against wristspin?

“Just a fair bit,” Munro says. “But a lot of these guys play international cricket and don’t give too much away, which is fair enough, but there are times when I come up against Ish [Sodhi] at the nets and try to read him. For me, it’s about the lack of enough confrontation, I might not be watching the wrist the whole way. I believe I pick it okay when I’m watching the wrist. And on surfaces like Sharjah, some spin more than the others and you can get yourself into trouble that way.”

Munro also concedes he would have liked to have made more than a solitary Test appearance – which came against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in 2013 – but being perennially ignored for the Test side prompted him to ditch red-ball cricket.

“Putting red-ball cricket on the backseat was a very tough decision,” Munro says. “I did really enjoy playing it with the Auckland boys, but for me I did not get the reward: playing Test cricket for New Zealand. I just didn’t see myself slogging for another couple of years and playing four-day cricket for Auckland. So, it’s tough. The reward is to be playing Test cricket.

“But, I was told by a few people that the way I play first-class cricket with the aggressive nature of mine I might not be successful in Test cricket – which I don’t see it as one of the reasons. You can see guys coming out and being aggressive in Test cricket and finding success. The other day Prithvi Shaw hit a run-a-ball hundred on debut.

“You can’t blame the New Zealand Test team at the moment; the boys are going well. Credit to them, but now I’m a white-ball specialist and just going to focus on the World Cup.”

His mentor McCullum set the 2015 World Cup on fire with his electric hitting and fielding. Does Munro see himself bringing a similar X-factor to New Zealand in England next year?

“Don’t know about it for now,” he says, “but I’ve got a big summer ahead of me. If I’m there in the squad, I’ll do everything in my power to be adaptable for New Zealand – whether they want me to be the dasher at the top or a guy who could bat a long period of time. Looking forward to it.”

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