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A Good Score

Instinct says Ish Sodhi is a good player just waiting to happen. The 19-year-old is in Queensland at the moment as a member of the New Zealand Under-19s, playing one-dayers at the Under-19 World Cup - having cruised into the Auckland Under-17s, Under-18s and Under-19s as that rare find: a talented young legspinner. 

But the Auckland Aces have a fulsome spin department so he hasn't, as yet, played first-class cricket. Now Auckland's loss is Northern Districts' gain. As of this week, Ish is a contracted Northern Knight. 

The signing of the Indian-born up-and-comer is a highlight of the final lot of contracts announced today, which also sees 21-year-old Brett Hampton take up his first contract for ND (after his strong performances for ND A and occasional Knights call-up last summer), along with Corey Anderson who was named in the first round. It's great to see strong, youthful players coming through - and, at the other end of the scale, that wonderfully competitive ol' fox Scott Styris, now an evergreen 37, has picked up a season contract, too.

Leaving talented players off the contracts list is never easy, yet inevitable given ND's large pool of first-class players. So there were some tough decisions to be made over the past couple of months, but Knights head coach Grant Bradburn is satisfied with the final list, which goes like this: 

Graeme Aldridge

Corey Anderson

Brent Arnel

James Baker

Anton Devcich

Brett Hampton

James Marshall

Daryl Mitchell

Bradley Scott

Ish Sodhi

Scott Styris

Anurag Verma

Brad Wilson

Joseph Yovich

"I feel it's an awesome blend of experience - a core of hardened, older guys who will bring forward the young, exciting talents," Grant said yesterday, in between briefing sessions at the major association coachs' preseason conference in Christchurch that finishes today. 

"Experience is something I really value; at the same time we do have a youth policy and we want to bring youth through and give them opportunities. We thought hard about that, and our contract list reflects the balance of future and present."

Ish (short for Inderbir) Sodhi's signing isn't something that's happened overnight. Grant and other ND selectors have seen quite a bit of the young leggie over the past two seasons as ND A have played Auckland A - the neighbouring teams play each other regularly. 

"We've been watching Ish develop over last couple of seasons as he's played against us for the A's and he's also been training with us quite often, with a lot of our boys actually training at Papatoetoe (Ish's Auckland club). We've had good communication and open discussions over the last year with him about coming down here, he knows about our environment and selection policy, and he's recognised that with two or three other spinners commanding game time in Auckland that there's an opportunity with us. 

"He's got a real exciting future. He's coming into an environment here surrounded by that core of great senior characters and I think he'll learn a lot. He feels he's going to grow as a cricketer with us and, without making any promises to him, we've opened the door and offered him the chance."

It sees the Knights blessed with options in slow bowling, given that fellow youthful up-and-comers Mitchell Santner and Joe Walker have already demonstrated their promise in their sprinkling of first-class appearances to date. Besides Kane Williamson and Dan Vettori when they're available, the likes of Jono Boult and Jason Donnelly have racked up some experience, too.

"We also have some very good other young spinners behind Joe and Mitch", Grant adds, "and while we can't contract everybody, we want to give all those guys opportunities and we make sure that all the guys understand that it's not just about gaining a contract, but working hard and performing and making the XI. 

"We're consistently performance-based with our selection, we're open and clear about that and we've shown it with a number of guys without a contract, for example Corey and Brandon Hiini last season, earning a right to play for the Knights regardless. It's a healthy environment and one in which we very much value the likes of Joe and Mitch."

Clearly, along with Ish, all three count as exciting works in progress, given that spinners tend to get markedly better through their 20s. So what's Ish like, for the benefit of those who are yet to see him in action?

"Ish is blessed with a beautiful action. He's very tall for a leg spinner and therefore releases the ball from an unusually high angle - and his action is very aggressive," Grant says. "He also has a lot of variation and is an absolute student of the game. We feel he's got special gifts and can be very successful at the next level."

You can check out that action for yourself here:

He took 43 wickets in Auckland Club cricket last summer and the Blackcaps  called him in as a net bowler when they were preparing for test cricket in Hamilton. With the likes of Tarun Nethula and Todd Astle proving very effective on the first-class scene, it's certainly exciting to have a leggie of our own and surely that first-class debut won't be stalled much longer. Congratulations Ish. Can't wait to see what you can do.

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