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Andrew Alderson: How keeping flies in the face of logic

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If there was no obvious back-up to Daniel Carter at first-five eighths on an All Blacks tour or no logical replacement for Benji Marshall as Kiwis standoff, there would be collective, open-mouthed disbelief among New Zealand sports fans.

That is why the rationale behind Jamie How's selection as back-up wicketkeeper to Brendon McCullum in the Black Caps World Cup squad was so surreal last week, and aroused such criticism.

To How's credit, he didn't bluff. He admitted he hadn't done any keeping since his days at the New Zealand academy at Lincoln. He also did the honourable thing, saying he'd give it his best shot - as you do when the selectors could be listening.

Yet he still sounded bemused at the prospect of standing behind the stumps in a tournament-defining encounter with a backyard level of experience.

The decision seems to fly in the face of logic, especially when Peter McGlashan sits at home with a sound record in the shorter forms of the game of late - and some innovative batting lower in the order. Reece Young is also no slouch, as his first two tests and domestic limited overs record attest.

It is not as if How needs any further distraction from his batting. His four innings in India late last year yielded just 41 runs, despite strong form leading into the series with Central Districts and New Zealand A.

The decision also places pressure on McCullum to stay fit and healthy, especially in the immediate days before a match. It effectively forces him to keep, just in case he gets any wacky ideas like spending a day in the field to lighten the load on his fragile back.

Convenor of selectors Mark Greatbatch was a bit glib to claim that "at the end of the day, it's about catching a ball". Try telling that to McCullum or perhaps Adam Parore or Ian Smith. There's more to the art than that - the wicketkeeper is one of the most pivotal positions on the field.

For starters, they have to be one of the most skilled players; leaping, running and concentrating for every delivery of the innings. They also have to be good communicators; other than the captain, they generally do most of the directing, cajoling and sledging by virtue of their position on the field.

At this World Cup, the wicketkeeper will probably be expected to stand up to the stumps for at least 25 overs an innings and it requires intense concentration with more balls going through to the keeper in 50-over matches than Twenty20.

The subcontinent is also recognised as a tough place to keep because balls come through low. Throwing How in uninitiated is asking for dropped catches and byes.

The media and past cricketers might well be over-reacting to the decision. In the end, McCullum may stay fit, but his record of late lessens that probability. Why take the risk?

New Zealand is not alone. A number of other test nations have also opted against a second specialist gloveman: England, West Indies, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. With the latter three, however, a replacement could be with the side in a day.

It is a gamble for the former two and New Zealand if injury strikes. If it does so during a decent lay-off, McGlashan or How could be pitched in cold.

New Zealand Cricket could base McGlashan in India - just not with the squad - but he is probably better off playing first-class matches with Northern Districts during that period. Another solution could have been to hold back left-arm spinner Luke Woodcock, given there was already potential cover in Kane Williamson if Nathan McCullum or Daniel Vettori were forced out.

Still, the How situation is hypothetical, the real issue is whether this side - which is almost as strong as New Zealand can offer at present - is capable of conjuring up an extraordinary form-switch to stop 11 one-day losses in a row and get New Zealand's sixth semifinal spot or better at the 10th World Cup.

- Herald on Sunday

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Covers sport across NZME's print, digital and radio brands.

Andrew writes and broadcasts on cricket and the Olympic disciplines for NZME's print, digital, video and radio platforms. His most recent project followed New Zealand sportspeople competing in Europe during the 2015 northern summer. He has attended four cricket World Cups, three Olympics and regularly works as a correspondent overseas.

Read more by Andrew Alderson

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