Young paceman set for rapid ascent

Publish Date
Monday, 12 February 2024, 9:58AM

By Kris Shannon

Given his seatmate stood 5cm taller, Will O’Rourke was happily “hugged up against the window” on his flight to Hamilton.

But the rangy paceman may soon elbow his way into a more prominent position, set for a test debut when the Black Caps attempt to clinch the series against South Africa at Seddon Park this week.

O’Rourke, who headed north with Kyle Jamieson before the match, could form a towering twin attack alongside his Canterbury teammate in the second test, starting on Tuesday.

If pitch conditions prove favourable and New Zealand opt to play four seamers, the 22-year-old may replace the injured Daryl Mitchell, elevating Glenn Phillips to No 5 in the batting order.

It would mark a quick ascent for O’Rourke, who made his first-class debut in 2022 after moving from England aged 5. But it also appears an ideal time to introduce the 1.97m fast bowler, considering an undermanned South Africa are unlikely to provide much resistance in the Black Caps’ quest for a historic series sweep.

O’Rourke gave away nothing after arriving in Hamilton, a late-night dinner with Jamieson having been followed by breakfast with the coaching staff. But he acknowledged that nerves would be present for a test debut that — like his maiden ODI appearance against Bangladesh in December — was hardly among his preseason aims.

“It’s been crazy,” he said. “Going into this season I didn’t think all these opportunities would come up, but it’s been really cool.

“Just the talent in this group, it’s cool to be part of and learn the most as I can from these guys.”

Jamieson and fellow Cantabrian Matt Henry have imparted plenty of advice while sharing a domestic dressing room. Now the trio could join skipper Tim Southee in a seam quartet at Seddon Park, which would restart the ticking clock on the career of Neil Wagner, turning 38 next month.

The hero of last year’s one-run over England at the Basin Reserve will be counting on a recall for the first test against Australia in Wellington, starting on February 29. Wagner’s left arm offers a valuable point of difference but, as he showed against Bangladesh, O’Rourke’s extra pace is enticing.

His 3-47 in the third ODI was the best of an understrength attack and his top return of the series, claiming one wicket in each of his other two outings. Boosted by that international bow, O’Rourke then snared a career-best 6-20 in a Ford Trophy win over Auckland.

“First five-wicket bag is always a nice one,” he said. “The pitch [in Rangiora] had a bit of assistance for us, so I just put it in the right area and got lucky enough to take a few edges.

“You bank a bit of confidence from the fact I’ve played at the international level before. I’ll take a few lessons from that and try to put that into test match cricket.”

O’Rourke’s main lesson since linking with the team has been simple and, if the pitch in Hamilton plays as expected, should hold him in good stead.

“I’ll be praying for a nice green one. I’ve only played the one four-dayer out here, it was nice and had a good amount of carry,” he said.

“[The coaches] just put a massive emphasis on being yourself, doing what you do. You’ve obviously been picked for a reason so it’s just going out there and doing what I do best — run in hard, try to hit the wicket hard and not change too much up.”

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission

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