At 36, Matt Henderson is embarking on his seventh tour for the New Zealand Men’s Indoor team and a fifth World Cup to go along with his sojourns in 2004, 2007, 2011 and 2014. He’s represented his country over 20 times to go along with at least five New Zealand Provincial titles, three New Zealand Club National Titles and over 10 domestic titles. He’s also played in Australian State Sides at their annual National Championships. In short, he’s achieved a lot in his career, apart from the one big title that has eluded him and indeed all New Zealand teams over indoor cricket’s history, a World Cup.
What is obvious from speaking with him is his passion for the game runs very strong, especially for a sport which indeed runs on that enthusiasm being player-funded and not affiliated to a major cricket board.
I talked to him ahead of the 10th edition of the Indoor Cricket World Cup being held in Dubai, UAE later this month.
Build-Up and Preparation
AK: What has the team build-up for the tournament been like so far? Is the focus on technical skills?
MH: We have attended a couple of camps in Auckland and Wellington so far. With New Zealand and the main cities being close, it’s relatively cheaper and easier to do that compared to other countries.
We only have a short period of time together so, (yes), the focus is more on combinations, game plans and building up that team culture. And then work on the key components – batting, bowling, fielding.
Every weekend we have also been doing training sessions with the Auckland based members of our squads, which include the Women’s and Under-21s.
AK: What is your role with the team; how does that work within the indoor setup?
MH: You just have to be very good at what you do; it’s almost that simple. The coaches, the leadership team, they will find a position for you in the side that fits in with their game plan accordingly. There is no real model for this sort of game. Everyone is a good player in their own right in this squad.
AK: How is the squad coming together and the coaching set-up?
MH: We have played against each other for so long at club and provincial tournaments, that everyone knows each other already. Everyone has an idea of each other’s games in the indoor scene. It’s actually great to be able to have those sorts of conversations with each other and reflect on past matches. Having guys like Jesse Ryder around has also added to that element of professionalism in our set-up.
Every previous tour I made with New Zealand was with Rob (Boiston, former New Zealand coach, now Australian Assistant Coach). He’s one of the best coaches I’ve had. Having Steve (Hart) and Botts (Paul Botterill) come in has provided a fresh new outlook on things; assessing the game from a different perspective, which is what I have appreciated.
AK: Where is your current fielding position and where do you prefer to be the most while on the court?
MH: I have been doing lots of floating lately (moving around the court to whichever fielding position is not occupied by the player bowling the over at the time).
My favourite position is leg line (where the batsman at the non-striker’s end stands, on the leg side. Rob Fitzgerald (from Australia, veteran of 6 World Cups) piqued my interest in that position and in my view, it is one of the most attacking positions on the field. For Auckland, I have been able to field there the last few seasons.
World Cup in the UAE
AK: What are your thoughts about a World Cup being played in the UAE? That’s some different ground being covered by indoor cricket and a new market being tapped into…
MH: It’s exciting, it’s something different, and yes as you mentioned having it in Dubai is an altogether different flavour.
The World Indoor Cricket Federation (WICF) is steadily building and now has 10 nations as members so having it played in Asia is great exposure.
It will also be my first tournament since the switch in international matches from 8-ball overs to 6-ball overs so this will be a bit of a change.
AK: How do you think the conditions will play out? Different variables with brand new facilities and turf courts might make batting a bit harder as the ball doesn’t come on as quickly…
MH: There is a bit of the unknown there with new courts (turf) and the nets likely to mean the ball will fly quickly off them. I would expect cutting (off and leg cutters) deliveries to be a bit of a handful so you just have to trust your batting techniques. In saying that we thought the same thing in South Africa (at the 2011 World Cup) given the surfaces there were rather similar and there were still teams scoring a lot of runs.
I think another aspect is the weather and how well the centre is air-conditioned. The matches run for approximately an hour and 20 minutes. How will this affect the balls, how quickly will they rough up (with 2 balls per game).
AK: So, what are New Zealand’s chances? Is this their time, or will Australia continue their dominance?
MH: We have a good side. We’ve got experience, we’ve got some good outdoor cricket representatives as well in the team, and everyone has played against each other, so they know about playing at this level to an extent. We just have to back ourselves, trust in our game plans and take it game-by-game. This is a very capable squad and there is the right mix across all disciplines here.
Obviously, Australia will be a tough team to beat. They have a lot of experience and as you know have never lost a tournament. I played in the Australian National Championships in July for South Australia and witnessed first-hand the talent on display there.
South Africa will also be competitive as usual, based on their style of play (having been to the World Cup in South Africa in 2011). England held the Masters World Series last year and again having viewed some of those games, are definitely coming along.
AK: Is this your last World Cup?
MH: Yes. No. Maybe (!). I said to myself it would be but it will depend on how I feel after the tournament in reality. Will just see how it plays out.
AK: How did you get into indoor cricket?
I was playing for a Canterbury (Provincial side) Emerging Players side that toured Australia in 2001-02. I was a batting all-rounder at the time. One of my team-mates mentioned about playing indoor cricket during the winter and my first words were “what’s indoor cricket”. I took it up from there and just loved it, loved being in the action. I was lucky to be selected for the New Zealand Colts (Under-21s) side the next year and entered the representative set-up from there.
Over the years I have grown to love the game; it has a different intensity; it’s a different type of game and I enjoy all the camaraderie and locker-room environment that comes with it.
AK: How long have you been playing in the Men’s side for? Do you still play outdoor cricket?
MH: I made my debut at the World Cup in Sri Lanka in 2004
I played my last season of outdoor cricket in Auckland (where he resides) in 2012
AK: Have you played for any other representative sides?
I played for the New South Wales Men’s side in the (Cricket Australia Indoor) National Championships in 2012. We had a really good tournament and made it all the way to the final.
I also played for the South Australian side at this year’s tournament.
AK: How do you think indoor cricket is growing as a sport? On a player funded model that must be tough?
MH: It’s still healthy. From my where I look I still see courts being full, people playing, people wanting to play. It’s a tough one with the player funded model, but the WICF could do no worse than tapping into the Asia market as they are this year in the UAE. There is a very passionate fan base there, that they can definitely capitalise on to bring the game forward.
Switching to 6-ball overs has been a plus in terms of making the game quicker and more exciting, and additionally having professional outdoor cricketers playing lends the sport some good exposure.
AK: What do you do outside of playing?
MH: I started up Body Torque (Gym and Physical Fitness Centre) with a business partner in 2013. I was a health fitness trainer (body transformation specialist, health and strength and conditioning accredited coach) and really interested in Sports Science. My aim is just to help people, and change that perception about what gyms are like. It makes me happy to see those people work hard and succeed.
I have worked with a number of cricket teams and have been a contracted strength and conditioning coach to the Auckland Hearts (Women’s team), Auckland Aces (Men’s) and New Zealand Cricket. I have worked with a number of current New Zealand players, who live in the Auckland region but play for different provinces including guys like Ish Sodhi, Corey Anderson, George Worker, Jimmy Neesham. Just helping to build on strength and weight training, among other things.
AK: How did the Facebook Page come about? (Road to Dubai – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1710870469125409/?ref=br_rs)
MH: I created that page at a time when I wasn’t playing. With indoor cricket, there are real readily available resources, players sharing information etc. So, to be able to share that sort of thing in the social media community has been great.
Just showing others what has helped me and whatever I can do to help them with their game. You don’t have to be too talented to be playing at a higher level in this sport, just keep it simple.
AK: What advice would you have to an up-and-coming player, keen to advance themselves in the sport?
MH: You need to get as close to the guys you play with as much as you can. By training with them, that advances the learning process. When I was coming up through the ranks, I trained with Brendan Donkers (former Canterbury outdoor cricketer and current New Zealand Indoor batting coach).
It’s about surrounding yourself with those people. We are lucky with indoor in that the community is small enough that you can be playing alongside and practising with New Zealand and Provincial representatives. Anyone who is good at what they do will want to share it.
The Indoor Cricket World Cup takes place from 16 -23 September from the InSportz Club in Dubai, UAE.
BLive will be undertaking live streaming of the finals from 23-24 September (https://blive.net.au).
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