Mark Richardson on cricket

Mark Richardson is a former Black Cap

Mark Richardson: McCullum able to earn keep with bat

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It looks like it is a case of when, not if, Brendon McCullum relinquishes the keeping gloves in Twenty20 and ODIs, and I think it will be a good thing.

This is a change of heart from me, as I've always thought McCullum thrived off the energy that comes from wicketkeeping; that he was not guaranteed to be batting at the top of the order; and why wouldn't you play someone in a role that makes him pretty much a world class wicketkeeper-batsman?

However, McCullum is going to be at the top of the order for some time and his overall contribution could be far greater in the future if he is able to dedicate more work to his batting.

McCullum has a terrific work ethic but must split that work between batting, keeping and fitness. His batting quality gained him selection as a wicketkeeper and, to his credit, he has been able to turn himself into the best keeper in the country, but he has yet to realise his true quality as a batsman.

We've seen some spectacular glimpses but not enough consistency. An average of 29 in ODIs is simply not reflective of his potential. While he is not physically an elder statesman yet, he is not young any more at 28. If he is going to make a change, then now is the time.

At the moment, the wicketkeeper-batsman thing is okay but not startling. Yes, he is up there in world cricket, but if he can raise his batting average by 6 to 10 runs per innings (and not wicketkeeping will assist with this), he can have a far bigger influence in raising the Black Caps' standing in world cricket.

Losing his wicketkeeping will not detract from the team's balance because, first of all, he has to earn and keep his place as a pure batsman, as an opener no less, and I like what I am seeing in Gareth Hopkins.

Hopkins is looking like making a tidy batsman-wicketkeeper. I say batsman first because, over the past few years at the provincial level, his record has been good enough to have him earn his place in T20 as a batsman alone and he has been showing nice, little touches in this current series.

Hopkins has a good all-round game with the bat in hand. He works the ball into gaps well and improvises nicely.

His wicketkeeping, however, is not quite at the international level. If he knows an increase in the level of his glove-work will see him cement his place in the side, and if he knows the wicketkeeping job is his, he may put the work into it to lift it to the level required.

The problem, however, with the McCullum master plan is test cricket.

If McCullum gets the go-ahead to focus on his batting in ODIs, then what of his keeping in test cricket?

He can't afford to let it slip until he has become a consistent and permanent member of the top six in test cricket. So how much less time can he afford to spend on his keeping after all?

- Herald on Sunday

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