David Leggat: Ronchi a bit wonky but best at the top

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Should Luke Ronchi make a bundle of runs in New Zealand's key Champions Trophy game against England tomorrow night, cue discreet sighs of relief around the group.

There's no doubt about the former Australian gloveman's wicketkeeping work. He has borne out the claims of his supporters that he's the best pure keeper in the country, neat, efficient, barely a slip.

When the ODI series against England began, Ronchi was given his chance at the top of the order. It looked almost like having to find a place in the order, with captain Brendon McCullum, Grant Elliott, James Franklin and Nathan McCullum pegged for positions five to eight.

There was, however, a hole at the top, with test batsman Hamish Rutherford omitted, and in fairness - although he may look a natural for that version of the game - his 50-over record for Otago and New Zealand isn't flash.

The result for Ronchi is 45 runs from five innings, having faced just 57 balls. The jury is out on Ronchi's worth at the top.

When Dannevirke-born Ronchi put his chips in with New Zealand cricket, one leading Australian writer was asked what he made of Ronchi, the batsman.

He mused a moment, then said "he's the sort of bloke who'll occasionally get you 60 in 28 balls". That doesn't sound like opening credentials outside the frenetic, unwritten rules of the T20 game. More a last eight overs free-for-all.

Still, needs must. There seem to be four contenders to go in first with Martin Guptill - in no order, Ronchi, Kane Williamson, Brendon McCullum and Franklin. One by one the others can be counted out of contention.

Williamson is the No3 man. Yes, quite often he's walked out in the first couple of overs, ergo what's the difference? But No3 is a specialist role, which carries a certain feel to it. If you doubt that, ask anyone who has spent any time in the job, and especially those who coveted it. Go in first? Sorry, I'm not an opener is the response.

McCullum last opened in an ODI in July 2011 in Colombo. Since then, 25 innings have gone by without him walking out at the start and he's shown no inclination to break that run.

In 109 ODIs Franklin has never opened. Martin Snedden did an admirable fill-in job at the 1987 World Cup, so there is precedent. But frankly Frankie is lucky to hold his place. His bowling, once a strength, is token; his batting contributing little.

He did win a game at Paarl last January with his unbeaten 47. However, the clock is surely ticking loudly for a good guy whose contribution has been minimal for some time.

So Ronchi it is, for now. It says something for the feeling in the group that McCullum has backed his keeper at the top. The cynical might suggest that's to deflect calls for him to step back up.

But if Ronchi misses out in Cardiff tomorrow night what then, assuming New Zealand make the semifinals? Or the final? New Zealand are in a decent space right now, so the argument may be don't tinker, even if things are misfiring at the top.

- NZ Herald

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