David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: McCullum down the order worth trying

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Why all the hand-wringing over Brendon McCullum dropping down the order for today's ODI against Pakistan?

You might think, having listened to all those fretful or furious voices or texters that the national selectors are completely bonkers.

You might think from all the hot air expelled on this that it is akin to Graham Henry telling Richie McCaw "yes, we know you're a handy No 7, but we want you to have a crack at halfback".

It's nothing of the sort.

The World Cup is around the corner.

New Zealand haven't exactly been among the flasher performers at the 50-over game in recent times.

So the selectors and head coach John Wright are absolutely right to look about for ways to put some starch into the side.

Putting McCullum down the order is no surprise.

Captain Dan Vettori told the Herald a few weeks ago that both McCullum and Jesse Ryder might well get a turn down the order.

There are a couple of lines of thought to this.

Firstly, McCullum and Ryder are a belligerent pair going in first. If they come off, as they did against England three seasons ago, the results can be spectacular.

The odds on both firing at the same time are slim.

Since facing India in March 2009 they have opened 11 times, producing 0, 166, 102, 9, 2, 1, 12, 125, 53, 0, 8. All you need to know about that combination is encapsulated in those numbers.

So why not split the resources of the team's two most electric attackers?

If both get done by good deliveries with the new ball - and it's not as if that's never happened either - New Zealand lose a major trick.

Secondly, there's a powerplay somewhere in the second half of the innings to utilise.

McCullum would seem to be one of the better alternatives with that in mind.

When Ryder gets his turn in the middle order, there's another factor to consider.

He ranks among New Zealand's better players of spin bowling.

Be absolutely sure the turning ball will be a dominant element in the tournament.

New Zealand have group A games against both Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

If you think those two teams will rely on seam and pace in the tournament, it's time to take up softball.

So the notion of Ryder carrying New Zealand through that middle stage, with his late-stage hitting to throw into the mix, has some appeal.

The opening options are Martin Guptill and Jamie How. Both are clean hitters who might or might not come off at the top. Much like McCullum and Ryder, in fact.

Let's look ahead. Say McCullum and Ryder open in the first three cup games and flop, individually and as a pair. Is it not better to at least have had a look at a couple of alternatives instead of blindly following the notion that they're the only pair who can go in first?

Vettori last night also made the point that McCullum may be restored to the opening job for the tournament anyway, if not sooner.

McCullum at No 6 might not work. Nor Ryder at No 4, if that happens. Guptill and Ryder as a pair may not set the Pakistan series on fire.

But let's at least leave no stone unturned ahead of the World Cup.

- NZ Herald

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