Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Captain needs to move up for Ryder's sake

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Troubled talent must be recalled for tests against India, so McCullum should go back to opener.

Jesse Ryder must be recalled for the two home cricket tests against India in February, writes Rattue. Photo / Getty Images
Jesse Ryder must be recalled for the two home cricket tests against India in February, writes Rattue. Photo / Getty Images

Slice it this way, dice it that. But taking the return of Jesse Ryder to the test team as the non-negotiable starting point, the most logical result involves captain Brendon McCullum opening the innings again.

Ryder must be recalled for the two home cricket tests against India in February, while the only candidates for the axe are the openers. And as bizarre as this might seem under the winning circumstances, if McCullum can't do the job as an opener, his very place in the team will be under threat. My confident guess is he would easily make a good enough fist of it by New Zealand standards.

McCullum started the year and his captaincy on a horrible low in Cape Town, but it has ended on a high against the Windies. New Zealand annihilated the once-great cricketing conglomerate with impressive ease.

No prizes for picking the Kiwis' Achilles heel though. The opening partnership of Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford started promisingly but even the Woeful Windies quickly figured them out.

Fulton is too easily tied up in knots and at that point, you can tie a bow around his wicket and stick it under the nearest glittering pine tree. Rutherford has a sack-full of technical difficulties.

Swashbuckler test openers like Gordon Greenidge and Matthew Hayden are rare cricketing geniuses. The rest must rely on organisation and technique based on damage limitation and forcing the bowlers to play to their scoring strengths.

John Wright and more particularly Mark Richardson are fine New Zealand examples of how to make that work.

There's no halfway position, like there's no such thing as being half pregnant.

Rutherford needs to accept he isn't as good as he thinks he is - his average would be higher if his strike rate was lower. Fulton is in such a dark place he should think the other way, but his test career is probably over.

There is plenty to like about the test lineup, including the balance and versatility. The main thing to like is Ross Taylor. He is a world-class act, and has shrugged off the captaincy insult to produce runs in amazing abundance.

It's no coincidence that his sounding board is Martin Crowe, among the smartest brains in world cricket and our most classically elegant batsman. This can also be fitted to the theory that national cricket coaches are redundant at times or even harmful if misused, that the best cricketers find their own guiding forces and what works for them. To carry this theory on, Crowe might be Taylor's finishing school, but wouldn't necessarily work for everyone.

Elsewhere, there are excellent bowling options and variety and the opening duo of Tim Southee and Trent Boult has world-beater potential. Ish Sodhi, the young leggie, is a project worth persevering with, and NZ spinners find it impossible to get near test level without test action.

Back to the batting. The ICC is trying to protect the integrity of test match cricket via setting a minimum schedule and starting an admittedly flimsy looking world championship concept. It is beholden on New Zealand to put its best foot forward, and the oft-troubled Ryder is way too good to be left out since returning from exile. Kiwi cricket can't afford to ignore his fan appeal either.

Kane Williamson, Corey Anderson and BJ Watling represent the future and have done enough to be retained in their current positions so it's McCullum who must move to create the gap for Ryder.

Although I believed Taylor should captain the test side and McCullum the other teams, it would be churlish to keep promoting that system after such a comprehensive series victory.

Maybe the Mike Hesson-McCullum leadership has something to it, even if the West Indies helped by rolling over. This New Zealand team are showing spirit and McCullum's decisions, including bowling first in Hamilton, have worked out. But he needs to take one for the team and move back up the order. He's played there with enough success before and if Rutherford survives, it would retain the advantage of a left- and right-hander combo.

Finally, well done to the New Zealand team. They cop a lot but have come up trumps this time, with enough to be cautiously optimistic about. It has been fabulous, and a relief, to watch.

Talent-wise, we might be on the verge of a great era.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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