Steven Croft has made a stunning start to life as a Twenty20 overseas player for New Zealanders Northern Knights in the HRV Cup, leading to two of his Lancashire team-mates backing him for an international call-up in the near future.
The Red Rose all-rounder, the county’s stand-in captain when Glen Chapple is unavailable, has led the Knights to successive wins against Otago Volts and Central Districts - the latest coming on Friday - with innings of 81 off 49 balls and 58 not out off 49. He also took 2-12 from two overs of off-spin against Central Districts.
Croft, 28-years-old last month, is playing alongside Essex wicketkeeper James Foster. It is the Blackpool-born player’s second spell in New Zealand domestic cricket after playing for Auckland in 2008/9.
He has maintained his excellent form after starring for Lancashire in 2012 across all competitions, culminating in him being named as the club’s Player of the Year in September.
Added to two County Championship centuries in away matches against Somerset and Surrey - latter was a career best 154 not out - he also took six wickets for the first time in the same competition against Worcestershire at Old Trafford.
His haul of 666 Championship runs was bettered only by Ashwell Prince, while he took 12 wickets in all and made his captaincy debut in the last match against Surrey at Liverpool.
Croft also scored 513 runs from 13 Clydesdale Bank 40 matches, including six fifties, and he was in the top five run-scorers in the country for the Friends Life t20 with 313 runs from eight matches. He scored two fifties.
His t20 form for Lancashire went a long way to helping him secure a place in England’s preliminary 30-man squad for September’s World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, although he failed to make the final 15.
But with England knocked out at the Super Eight stage, it would be no surprise to see some fresh faces named in their squad for two 20-over matches in India at the end of the ongoing four-match Test series.
Although his batting is his main suit, his ever improving off-spin would benefit him in India, while his “dynamite” style of fielding, as described by county colleague Tom Smith, is perfectly suited to the explosive nature of the shortest format.
“He's had a really good few seasons in all competitions, and he's a very consistent performer,” said fellow all-rounder Smith. “He deserved his selection in that 30-man squad this year. It just shows what a player he is that he's gone to another country and first game in he's smashed 80 off 40-odd balls.
“As a cricketer, he's developing all the time. He puts the hard yards in and get results. He's definitely done the right thing by going away, playing in another tournament and putting his name in the hat.
“He's putting performances in that the selectors can't shy away from. It's not just his batting, but he's an absolute dynamite fielder. He's one of the best in the country in my eyes. His spin is also a great option for him. He's the all-round one-day package.”
Captain Chapple added: “His performances for us have been great, and it's his all-round game. His bowling has come on a hell of a lot, and his batting is explosive. He is also one of the best fielders you will see. It just depends on what the people who matter think about that.”
Croft’s move to Northern Districts was sparked by his friendship with Scott Styris, who he played with at Auckland. The competition runs through until January 20, with Croft’s next outing coming on Friday against Canterbury Wizards at Seddon Park in Hamilton.
Lancashire fans can follow his progress via Radio Sport NZ, who are providing live commentary on each match. http://www.radiosport.co.nz
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh
Article (c) Lancashire CCC Ltd
See Steven Croft's blog tomorrow on lccc.co.uk