Richard Boock: How can they afford to leave Styris out?

By Richard Boock

The best argument in support of the latest theory swirling around the New Zealand team is that it doesn't make the slightest bit of sense.

Yet it was hard to escape the impression this week that coach John Bracewell was mounting a strong case for Jacob Oram to take over at No 6 during the upcoming South African series, probably at the expense of incumbent Scott Styris.

Speaking before the 15-man squad was announced, Bracewell made it clear that Oram was his preferred option at No 6 if available, reasoning that he added more to the attack than the "stopper" being used at present.

The idea of omitting Styris from the line-up has drawn gasps from media commentators, particularly as the Auckland all-rounder has shown reasonable form with the bat this summer and was the only New Zealander to score a century against the West Indies.

The 30-year-old right-hander's test batting average hovers just over 40. He has already scored five centuries, the best a magnificent 170 against South Africa at Auckland, and he rates as one of the better second slips in the business.

However, Bracewell and his fellow selectors haven't exactly followed the conventional rules of selection this season, and it's no exaggeration to suggest that every player in the team now lives in fear of being axed.

It doesn't make sense? Well, neither did it when Chris Cairns was virtually forced out of the game this year, when Nathan Astle's cage was rattled so vigorously he almost jumped of his own accord, and when Lou Vincent was dumped from the test squad.

Whatever the criteria for selection, logic doesn't appear to figure prominently.

Oram's intended inclusion at No 6 is at least no great surprise.

The big all-rounder lends a balance that hasn't been evident in a New Zealand test team since the retirement of Cairns, and he effectively fills the role of two players.

The problem for Bracewell is that, if he doesn't concede a point or two on his experimental top-order of Jamie How, Hamish Marshall and Peter Fulton, Oram's inclusion will force out either Styris or Astle - end of story.

There is a simple solution, of course - drop Marshall as an opener, promote Fulton from No 3 and move the rest of the batting order up one place to create room at No 6 for Oram.

That would leave the unlucky Marshall as cover for the middle-order but would at least make the most of all New Zealand's in-form batsmen, not to mention fashioning a much more likely opening combination.

However, the suggestion is that Bracewell wants to see more of the How-Marshall trial and that he's thoroughly pleased with Fulton's progress at first-drop, meaning little change at the top for the first test at Centurion.

If that's the case, then all attention will switch back to the plight of Styris.

"There's no doubt of it in my mind. It's much better to have someone batting at No 6 who can bowl a heavy ball, rather than what we've got now," Bracewell said this week.

"Ideally, when you're up against the best teams in the world, you want your best combination on board. I think a strong bowler at No 6 gives you more than a stopper, which is what we're currently using in this series.

"It might swing and things over here, but the true measure will be in South Africa."

Adding more fuel to the suggestion that Styris is about to be targeted was his curious treatment at the bowling crease during the first two tests against the West Indies, when he was used only lightly at Auckland and not at all in Wellington.

Instead, Fleming employed Astle as his first-choice part-timer and was rewarded with a reminder of the Canterbury veteran's economy and wicket-taking abilities, particularly against batsmen who disliked being restricted.

Astle said the idea of an increased contribution at the bowling crease had not been discussed with him at any time during the lead-up to the series nor during the tests but that he welcomed the increased opportunity.

But Styris seemed a bit confused after bowling just seven overs at Auckland, telling media later that he was looking forward to playing an increased role with the ball at Wellington. As it was, he didn't receive an over.

Conspiracy theorists have been quick to suggest that the reason might lie with Bracewell's intended plans in South Africa, where Astle could be in line to be selected as the team's only part-time bowler.

Others have talked about the annoyance within the New Zealand management team at the way Styris threw away his wicket in the second innings at Auckland and the first innings at Wellington and the possible fall-out from that.

Whatever the viewpoint, it's hard to ignore the selection panel's record in terms of experimentation so far, and even harder to ignore Bracewell's pointed remarks about the likely consequences of including Oram.

It might not make sense, but what else has this summer?

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