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India vs New Zealand: After sitting years on sideline, Will Young making most of the rare opportunity

In 2012 a young talented batsman started to get followers of New Zealand domestic cricket talking. Will Young, fresh from the captaining the Under 19 World Cup, was starting to make waves for Central Districts. Some pundits were suggesting that he was so clearly destined for better things that he should be picked early for the New Zealand side, and get introduced to the team culture. But Will Young was not picked by New Zealand in 2012.

Within a couple of years, he was one of the best performing batters in the country. He was the second top run scorer in the 2014/15 Plunket Shield, and third top scorer in the Ford Trophy (50 over). He was really starting to be noticed now. Surely it was only a matter of time before he was picked. But Will Young was not picked by New Zealand in 2014.

Will Young in action on Day 2 of the first Test against India. Sportzpics

Will Young in action on Day 2 of the first Test against India. Sportzpics

In 2015/16, he had a quiet season by his standards, but still managed to be one of the top scorers in both the first class and list A competitions, ending the season with over 1000 runs again. It seemed like there was going to be an opening soon in the New Zealand side, and he was poised to fill that gap. Perhaps someone would get injured or retire, and he could take that spot. But Will Young was not picked by New Zealand in 2015 or 2016.

The pattern continued. By 2019 Will Young had captained New Zealand A, been selected in the New Zealand squad a couple of times, been described as the heir apparent to Ross Taylor, but still had not been selected to play for New Zealand.

He had become the king of the sidelines. The domestic players were all aware of how good he was. But it was hard to see how he would fit into the current side, so he had never been given a chance.

And so he kept playing for Central Districts, and kept succeeding. As captain he led the Central side to win titles in both long and short form cricket. As a batsman he continued to accumulate runs in all conditions.

One of the things that makes Central Districts an interesting team to play for is the nature of the region. When New Zealand cricket’s first class scene started in the 1800s, teams from regions would self-organise and then challenge the holder of the Plunket Shield to a match to try and take the shield off them. Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury were the main three teams involved, but other regions such as Hawkes Bay joined in.

Eventually, the teams were organised, but it was feared that some of the smaller districts would not be able to compete, so they were amalgamated. Central Districts was formed from eight minor associations at the bottom of the North Island and the top of the South Island. This created an interesting conundrum: where would they play their home games. The decision was made to share them around.

Over the years, Central have had 15 different home grounds. However they have now settled on four.

Those four grounds are spread almost to the corners of the district, and have quite different conditions. Napier tends to be hot and dry, Nelson hot and humid, Palmerston North is windy while New Plymouth is often damp underfoot.

To score consistently for Central Districts, a player needs to be able to adapt their game to the different conditions. And so playing for years at Central Districts has probably helped Will Young’s game more than playing somewhere with more consistent conditions might have.

In 2018, he got the opportunity to captain New Zealand A against India A. He was the top scorer in the unofficial Tests, and second top scorer in the 50-over matches. But New Zealand’s Test line up was settled and successful. There was no room for him there. So Will Young did not get picked to play for New Zealand in 2018.

Finally in 2019 he got his call up. He was named in the Test team to play against Bangladesh in Christchurch. But, just before the match started, the Christchurch mosque attack happened. Bangladesh went home and the match was called off. As a result, Will Young did not play for New Zealand in early 2019.

His ability to adapt to new conditions became clear later that year when he was brought into the New Zealand squad for some warm up matches before the World Cup. He had surgery on his shoulder scheduled, so he was not going to be available for the cup proper, but he did play in three unofficial matches against Australia in Queensland. He scored over 300 runs in the unofficial series, but due to his surgery, Will Young was not picked for New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup.

Finally in 2020, Will Young made his debut for New Zealand. It did not go so well for him. He got a good ball early on from Shannon Gabriel, and the got to sit and watch his new team mates dominate the West Indies attack and score over 500 runs for the loss of only six others.

His next innings saw him get a more respectable 43 before top scoring with 82 against England at Birmingham. Now he’s in India succeeding here too.

The biggest challenges for a player is to show that they can play on the different types of pitches that world cricket throws at them. Runs against Australia in Australia, England in England and now India in India suggest that Will Young has served his apprenticeship, and no longer needs to be the last player not picked. Instead now that the spotlight is on him, he has the chance to perform so well that it doesn’t leave him.

And so far, in this match, that is exactly what he has done.

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