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Anton Devcich – an allrounder in the truest sense

A key step towards that could be his upcoming maiden Big Bash League stint with Sydney Thunder. He is set to occupy one of two slots left vacant by Jos Buttler and Joe Root, who are away on national duty.

“I haven’t spoken yet to New Zealand Cricket about where I’m sitting at the moment,” Devcich tells ESPNcricinfo. “But in terms of performance, putting numbers on board, my style of cricket and my experience, I think I’m much closer to playing for New Zealand again. I don’t think I was as consistent maybe two years ago. I am well and truly trying as hard as I can to get into the squad for the 2020 World Cup in Australia. This Anton of 2019 has a far better chance of playing for New Zealand than I was a couple of years back.”

Opting out of a central contract with Northern Districts, for whom he is the top scorer and wicket-taker in T20s, was a difficult decision at the time, but Devcich believes it was the “right” call.

“My wife was pregnant when I gave up the contract with Northern Districts, and from having a secure income, I went to having no income in a space of 24 hours,” Devcich says. “At that phase, I wanted to play T20 cricket, and the only way to get ahead of New Zealand’s top three – Munro, Guptill and Williamson – is I had to get better. I thought my only way to get better quickly was to test myself in these leagues. My main objective of playing all these leagues is purely to gain experience and to fast-track progression really.

“Luckily for me, almost immediately after I declined my contract, Shane Bond from the Sydney Thunder called me up to the side. It was a massive relief financially, but also an exciting time, because the BBL is one of the best T20 tournaments. Everyone in New Zealand wants to play there, and I’m among four or five guys to have the opportunity.”

Devcich’s ability to adapt and adjust to different conditions bodes well for him. Where he was able to muscle the ball away back home in the Super Smash and in the leagues (PSL, APL and T10) in the UAE, he came up against extremely slow tracks in the 2018 Caribbean Premier League.

With Chris Gayle and Evin Lewis manning the St Kitts & Nevis Patriots top order, Devcich was tasked with batting out of position in the middle order. He admits to struggling on the sluggish, turning pitches in the early half of the tournament, but picks his 22-ball half-century in a steep chase against Jamaica Tallawahs in the Eliminator as the innings that gave him confidence.

He displayed excellent footwork in that match – whether twinkling down the track and launching Samuel Badree down the ground, or jumping back and pulling his Northern Knights teammate Ish Sodhi.

“I guess the CPL wickets in particular were very slow, even more so than the ones in Dubai,” Devcich says. “I initially struggled in the tournament a bit, I batted in the middle, and then against Jamaica I batted well and helped my team get over the line. From that point onwards [the confidence came]; when I came to Dubai and Sharjah, it was a bit skiddy and I had the knowledge of playing on slow tracks. The Global T20 wickets were also slow. The CPL helped me to get used to different conditions.”

“I think I’m much closer to playing for New Zealand again. I don’t think I was as consistent maybe two years ago. I am well and truly trying as hard as I can to get into the squad for the 2020 World Cup in Australia. This Anton of 2019 has a far better chance of playing for New Zealand than I was a couple of years back.”

Anton Devcich

As a Croatian-New Zealander, Devcich has fond memories of Goran Ivanisevic winning the Wimbledon, but Brian Lara was always his cricketing idol, and the CPL stint with Trinbago Knight Riders – his first with a T20 franchise – gave him a chance to have dinner and drinks with him.

“Brian is a Trinidad boy and he hosted us for dinner and drinks,” Devcich says. “Brendon [McCullum] was also there with me at TKR and helped me through the CPL. Brian’s good friend Dwight Yorke was there as well then – he’s obviously a legend in football.

“Brian was a big role model for me growing up, watching his one-day cricket. I’m lucky to have met him; not everyone meets their idol. He was the only player for whom I could stop whatever I was doing and just watch him bat.”

Devcich also reckons that his bowling is coming along well. He doesn’t turn the ball much, banking instead on attacking the stumps with arm balls and drifters. They fetched him 4 for 27 in the Knights’ opening win in the Super Smash last month.

“I have just simplified things when it comes to bowling,” he says. “I don’t turn the ball much at all. Some days the ball also swings and creates challenges in itself. I don’t try too much and just look to bowl dot balls. And that seems to have worked in the last couple of years. I haven’t bowled much in leagues outside of Super Smash and I’m hoping to do so in the future leagues.”

Sure, Devcich has been there and done that in many other leagues, but can he bring the Thunder across the ditch?

“I don’t really have aspirations pinpointed as such in the BBL,” he says. “I just want to get stuck in and be who I am. I’m lucky enough that I’ve played a few leagues. I don’t feel nervous anymore because I’ve played with and against some of the world-class players. It’s still hard for a player to get into a new environment, but I’m going to try my hardest, and hopefully, we can get a few wins and make the finals.”