Youngster has inside running to open if selected for NZ XI and test side.

February has passed by in a blur for Hamish Rutherford.

Before then, there he was plundering runs for Otago, putting himself at the forefront of a clutch of up-and-coming batsmen.

Now he's preparing for his eighth and ninth games against world No 2 England - the eighth for the New Zealand XI at Queenstown from Wednesday; the ninth, if he makes the final cut, the first test on his home ground, University Oval.

"I suppose up to date I haven't seized the opportunities I've been granted, which is a little bit disappointing," he said yesterday. "But now I've been given another chance to prove my worth in a form I think I've done well in recently so I'm really excited about that."


All those games have a double edge; Rutherford has had a good look at England's classy seam attack; and they've had a host of chances to check the 23-year-old out. He has scored 1216 runs in the past two Plunket Shield campaigns at 55.27.

It's the form of the game he likes most, and opening is the only role he wants to do. He talks of "the whole waiting about, and what not". Open and there's no scoreboard pressure.

Rutherford is one selection decision away from joining father Ken as an international test player. When the New Zealand XI play England in Queenstown from Wednesday, Rutherford is effectively in a head-to-head duel with Canterbury lefthander Tom Latham to open with veteran Peter Fulton, back after a three-year absence on the strength of good domestic form.

"I've been facing the white ball recently so I want to face some red ball, try to occupy the crease and get into the rhythm of the longer form," Rutherford said. Latham hasn't opened much for Canterbury and Hesson indicated Rutherford has the strong inside running.

In-form veteran Aaron Redmond was overtaken by Rutherford, Hesson acknowledging a seasoned Fulton-Redmond combination was a possibility. But the 10-years-younger man got the nod, Hesson praising his character and the work he's done on technical aspects.

There's another trial looming in Queenstown between Otago's left arm seamer Neil Wagner and Wellington's bustling quick Mark Gillespie. One spot has been left open in the 13, although coach Mike Hesson dropped a broad hint that Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Doug Bracewell are the favoured trio.

A fourth fast-medium bowler would only be added if it's decided the University Oval pitch doesn't need a spinner.

What Hesson didn't drop was the identity of the vice-captain. Although McCullum has tended to dismiss the job, he picked up an abdominal strain batting at Eden Park on Saturday. That means it may be a more significant job than usual.

A leadership group will be formed in Dunedin. Kane Williamson appears the most likely for the role, and was anointed by McCullum in Cape Town in January as such. However, the captain has indicated in the past he favoured Southee as his No 2.

"Obviously Tim leads the bowling attack so it's probably a fair summation that Tim will be part of that group. To say he'll be vice-captain is probably taking three steps forward," Hesson said.

• Wicketkeeping contender Luke Ronchi is out of the Queenstown game with a hamstring injury. Test batsman BJ Watling comes in, and Latham becomes captain.

In the squad

The New Zealand first test squad to play England, starting in Dunedin on March 6:
Brendon McCullum (c), Hamish Rutherford, Peter Fulton, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Dean Brownlie, BJ Watling, Tim Southee, Doug Bracewell, Bruce Martin, Trent Boult, one to be added.