World Cup final: Prodigal son Luke Ronchi returns to Australia with New Zealand

A decade ago, Luke Ronchi, the destructive Western Australian wicketkeeper-batsman, was being groomed to be Adam Gilchrist’s successor, especially in the 50-over format, where his eclectic talents seemed best suited.

On Sunday, Australia will likely need to curtail Ronchi, who now plays for New Zealand, when the two teams meet in the World Cup final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

 World Cup final: Prodigal son Luke Ronchi returns to Australia with New Zealand

File picture of Luke Ronchi. Getty

Ronchi was born in Dannevirke, on New Zealand’s north island, but moved to Western Australia with his family at age six. As he rose through the WA ranks, it was easy to see why many scouts compared him to Gilchrist. As an innately attacking batsman, Ronchi was capable of obliterating bowlers. And, like Gilchrist, he was tallish for a wicketkeeper but reliable behind the stumps.

His madcap talents came most notably to the fore when he destroyed Shane Warne during the first ever T20 match played in Australia in early 2005.

Ronchi made his ODI debut for Australia in 2008 and smashed a 22-ball half-century against the West Indies in only his second innings. He was teammates with Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson and David Warner, all of whom will be on the field in the final. However, his inconsistencies led him to playing just four ODIs and three T20s for Australia and before too long, he was facing the outs in domestic cricket too, following the emergence of the exciting Sam Whiteman in the Western Australian ranks.

In early 2012, aged 31, Ronchi could read the writing on the wall. A bevy of talented wicketkeepers were dotting Australian domestic cricket, while Brad Haddin still appeared to have a few years left at the top level. It was evident Ronchi had been red stamped and would never play for Australia again. So he packed up and headed back to the country of his birth.

He signed for Wellington in March 2012, and the following year was picked by New Zealand just four months after his four-year transition period was over. He came the first player in history to have represented both Australia and New Zealand, and just the 23rd cricketer to have played for two countries.

Ronchi has had little impact with the bat during the World Cup but his all-round prowess has been vital in New Zealand’s transformation into a powerhouse. His match-winning ability instills the opposition with trepidation, demonstrated by his unbeaten 170 against Sri Lanka earlier this year, which is the highest ever ODI score by a batsman at number seven or lower.

Jeff Grzinic played with Ronchi for 15 years at Perth Cricket Club and described his former teammate as a “freakish talent”.
“He must have been about 15-16 years old when he came to the club and he was identified as a potential superstar even back then,” Grzinic told Firstpost. “He took to grade cricket and playing against men easily. As Ronch was steadily rising up the ranks we also had Adam Gilchrist at our club, who was then playing for WA and Australia. On the odd occasion Gilly and Ronch both played at the same time, Ronch often kept while Gilly had a run around.”

Ronchi’s presence at seven provides the Black Caps with explosive batting depth, rivaling Australia’s deep batting line-up. More than any other opposition, Australia will be well aware of Ronchi’s dangerous ability to win a match off his own blade.

“He picks the ball up so early and hits the ball so hard and confidently,” Grzinic said. “When he's on fire, he's extremely aggressive and explosive and you know he is capable of anything. His problem has been consistency as a batsman. He has that much ability that when he was on fire he was from another planet….like he was playing a different type of cricket. His glove work was always world class.”

Grzinic believes Ronchi always knew he could succeed at the international level. “When he left WA, Ronch probably knew his chances of playing for Australia again were slim. I think deep down he knew he was good enough to make it but never had an extended period at that level. No one who knows him well would be surprised he's playing regularly for New Zealand. He was always better than a first-class player.”

Ronchi’s humble demeanour masks his fierce desire to succeed, according to Grzinic. “Luke has always been a very quiet, determined young guy and cricketer. You could see from an early age that he was internally driven to achieve his goal of playing first class and international cricket. He is a quality guy, respectful, thoughtful and extremely down to earth. You couldn't find a bad word to say about him.”

As the Trans-Tasman rivalry reaches an unparalleled intensity during the final, Ronchi will be in a unique situation but one that is unlikely to perturb him.

“He is a guy who is not easily distracted,” Grzinic says. “Knowing Ronch, he would probably be quietly proud of what he's achieved and outwardly very humble. He deserves every success he gets. He's the type of person you love to see succeed.”

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Updated Date: Mar 29, 2015 08:19:56 IST