Around this time nine years ago, a 17-year-old Jacob Duffy made his T20 debut under Brendon McCullum for Otago and took out Northern Districts’ top three, including Kane Williamson and Tim Southee. Come Friday in the absence of a number of New Zealand seniors including Williamson and Southee, Duffy, now 26, could potentially make his international debut against Pakistan at Eden Park.
The right-arm seamer is line to become the first Southlander to debut for New Zealand in international cricket since Jeff Wilson in 1993.
“It’s amazing how many people reach out when you sort of get the call-up,” Duffy said two days out of the series opener in Auckland. “No, it’s pretty exciting, especially for a small community like that. I’ve really enjoyed growing up there, playing all my cricket there, and a little bit of Hawke Cup cricket and stuff. People down there are really fizzed. I remember they were fizzed up when I first played for Otago, so this is another step-up and it’s really cool.”
Duffy, the Otago white-ball captain, has been among the most consistent performers in domestic cricket, and has also impressed for New Zealand A in recent times. He joins the senior side on the back of a six-wicket haul against the touring West Indians in a four-day fixture in Mount Maunganui. Earlier, in the 2019-20 Plunket Shield, he was the leading wicket-taker, with 22 strikes in five matches at an average of 22.86. He was also the second-highest wicket-taker in last season’s 50-over Ford Trophy with 21 scalps.
A tall bowler, Duffy can hit heavy lengths and extract extra bounce, but it is his ability to pitch the ball up and swing it which makes him an exciting addition to New Zealand’s already well-stocked seam attack. As for his T20 credentials, Duffy fronts up to bowl the tough overs at the death, and nobody has taken more wickets than him during this phase in the past four years in New Zealand’s domestic T20 competition. He has grabbed 15 wickets in 18 innings in the slog overs at an economy rate of 9.36. Duffy reckoned that his experiences of dealing with batting-friendly tracks and smaller boundaries at the domestic level would tune him up for international cricket.
“You just have to play like another game,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough in the last couple of years to play a little [bit] of A cricket, so you get to experience the international flavour and see what other people around the world have. I guess the good thing about that is you realise you’re not far off in terms of skill levels and things like that. You can actually compete with guys at the international level. So, I think that’s a big part of learning out of the [A] series and just got to take that into this [international cricket] and back your skills.
“It’s about doing what I’ve been doing to get here. I’ve got a particular brand of cricket I like to play and sort of things that have worked for me in the last few years – I will just be sticking to my guns.”
The Duffy brand of cricket also involves scouting and looking for clues to outsmart the opposition. “I go home and watch a lot of footage,” he said. “I’ve got my own individual plans and cater the batsmen to what plan suits best.”
Duffy attributed his recent success and international call-up to remodelling his action and straightening his follow-through. After being sent to a bowling boot camp by Otago coaches Rob Walter and Anton Roux in 2016-17, Duffy missed a major chunk of on-field action but worked on his control and ability to swing the ball during his time away from the side.
“Coach Rob Walter and Anton Roux sort of sent me down to…They hadn’t seen a lot of me [then], but knew something was off,” Duffy said. “I went back to the drawing board and missed a lot of cricket that summer. Honestly, that turned my career around, and I’m honestly grateful to those guys for seeing something like that. That was a massive turning point in my career and I’ve been chipping away ever since.
“I was falling away and wasn’t swinging the ball anymore and a little bit inaccurate, doing no good to anyone. [I] just got taller at the crease and a bit straighter [with my followthrough].”
New Zealand bowling coach Shane Jurgensen, who has previously worked with Duffy during his A team stint, was pleased with the seamer’s progress and looked ahead to comparing scouting notes with him.
“That’s [reworking the action is] hard for a bowler, particularly for a young bowler who has sort of been in New Zealand cricket’s High Performance systems for a long time. He had to rejig a few things and he’s done so well,” Jurgensen said. “He has performed well for Otago and he has been the captain. He has had a great opportunity to control his destiny and it’s a testament to the hard work he has done. He stepped up for the New Zealand A team last year against India, which was a great series I was involved in…. He is still a young man and has a lot of time in his cricketing career.
“Duffy has a few tricks up his sleeve as a bowler in T20 – he has done very well. It’s about trying to marry his strengths with what we might plan to do at this venue but also against Pakistan.”
A debut at Eden Park, where the straight boundaries are ultra-short, could mean a tough initiation into international cricket for Duffy, but he hopes that his “best will be good enough.”