Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: Guptill grabs his opening

They call him Marty Two Toes - but Martin Guptill has taken his strong throwing arm and wrapped it firmly around a place at the top of the Black Caps' batting order.

In a team where the batting has been patchy at best, Guptill has stood out as one of the few successes, in spite of a failure in the win against South Africa yesterday.

He remains a work in progress but has cemented an opener's place in the New Zealand cricket team as a result of his World Cup form.

The 24-year-old's skill in playing straight bat shots mean he has now secured the opening spot in all three formats of the game and his fielding is among the best in the world. It comes in response to being dropped for the tour to Bangladesh in October.

He forced his way back for the tour to India, via the New Zealand 'A' trip to Zimbabwe. Certainly he needs to keep scoring regular runs but so does anyone in the New Zealand top order. Guptill has contributed at the tournament on three occasions with the bat - in the 10-wicket wins over Kenya and Zimbabwe and in setting up the victory over Pakistan with 57.

His statistics argue he should be donning the pads first. A tall, elegant stroke-maker, he has scored 38 per cent of his runs in the 'V' between cover and midwicket at the tournament. Compare that to the two other New Zealand batsmen averaging over 50 at the end of the group stage.

Ross Taylor gets 17 per cent of his runs in the 'V' and Brendon McCullum 32 per cent.

Guptill is also adept playing either side of the wicket. He has scored 49 per cent of his runs on the off-side and 51 per cent on the leg-side. Compare that to Taylor (32/68) and McCullum (61/39) and it becomes clear he might cause captains problems setting a field.

"I've always seen myself as an opener," Guptill says. "It's where I've played for Auckland; it's where I'm comfortable; it's where I want to be. I've always scored a lot of runs down the ground but brought in shots square of the wicket as I progressed. My instinct has always been to look straight first and square later. I've tried to work on my cut shot recently so I'm not too predictable."

Guptill's fielding has played as much of a part to guarantee him a spot. Anywhere he prowls, batsmen fear to sneak an extra run. Yesterday, against South Africa, he ran out key batsman AB de Villiers.

Marty Two Toes, as he is sometimes referred after a forklift accident aged 13 severed part of his left foot, has a safe pair of hands, a laser-like throw and the instinct and speed to get into run-saving positions.

The defeat by Sri Lanka was an example where New Zealand saved in excess of 40 runs.

Guptill does not wear anything in his left shoe to compensate for his missing toes. He tried an orthotic device initially but it rubbed against his foot and was painful when he ran. New Zealand assistant coach Trent Woodhill runs the team's fielding drills. He says you would never know Guptill had any such difficulty.

"In my opinion he's challenging [South Africa's] AB de Villiers as the best fielder in the world. He's freakish; his movements are unbelievable, he sets the standard and seems to go where the ball is. I first met him in July and he almost killed me throwing in a ball, I couldn't believe how strong his arm was."

Guptill has also been a loyal mate to Jesse Ryder, despite his turbulent past. One reason has been a shared love of rugby league. They select fantasy NRL teams to keep them from staring at the ceiling in their hotel rooms.

"I met him properly on a 2008 emerging players tour. He loves his league too. We talk about it a fair bit off the field and he's got bragging rights with his team at the moment ... mine's not too flash. You get 30 trades a season and I've already used four in the first fortnight. Before round one I had [Gold Coast Titans] Anthony Laffranchi and Mark Minichiello but they didn't play the first couple of weeks so I had to bin them."

Guptill has always supported the Warriors but grew up playing football and rugby. He has only really come to love league in the last couple of years. It has helped having former Warriors and Kiwis coach Frank Endacott as his manager. Somehow he usually finds Guptill tickets to games.

Guptill is hoping to catch a couple of Warriors matches before heading to England for his first county cricket season. He will join Black Caps coach John Wright's former county Derbyshire, replacing Australian top order batsman Usman Khawaja.

- Herald on Sunday

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