Cricket: Test planning in a spin with Guptill gone

By David Leggat

Two areas will attract most attention when New Zealand's squad for the first test against England is named tomorrow morning - the openers and the spinner.

Martin Guptill's test form has been average of late, but he would certainly have been in the 13 for Dunedin had he not damaged ligaments in a thumb, which has counted him out of the three-match series.

That has thrown a massive googly in New Zealand's planning. With captain Brendon McCullum moving into the middle order, the thinking would have been for as little fiddling elsewhere as possible while the rearranged top six were bedded in.

That's now gone for a skate. The selectors, coach Mike Hesson and national selection manager Kim Littlejohn, have options.

They could persevere with lefthander Hamish Rutherford, who has played against the English more than any other player on this tour - Eden Park today will be his seventh outing in eight games in the ANZ international series, and he's in the New Zealand XI side for Queenstown next week.

Familiarity, therefore, won't be an issue. He's scored 609 Plunket Shield runs for Otago at 40 this summer and is a coming man among the country's batting group. But is it too much, too soon?

Central Districts' Jeet Raval made a century on Thursday against Northern Districts in Nelson. He is an opener, promising, can bat time, but inconsistent.

Opening is a job for specialists, the more so considering the opposition possess a high-quality seam attack.

The queue is led by former test pair Canterbury's Peter Fulton and Otago's Aaron Redmond, Nos 2 and 1 on shield aggregates, both past 900 runs, and getting them at averages of 56.3 and 58.5 respectively. They are 34 and 33, but that should be irrelevant. Redmond has been unwanted since late 2008. Fulton has been three years gone.

Hesson made the point in South Africa that players would be rewarded if they produced strong domestic form. Those two can certainly point to statistics and players should be picked when they're delivering. If Hesson and Littlejohn want to look ahead, then it will most likely be Rutherford.

McCullum yesterday all but confirmed wicketkeeper BJ Watling would stay in the middle order, so puttings the Luke Ronchi question back in the cupboard for another two weeks. The middle order is settled - Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, McCullum and Dean Brownlie, Watling at No 7.

The seamers will be Tim Southee, Doug Bracewell, in good recent form for CD, Trent Boult and either Neil Wagner or Mark Gillespie. Injury has hit veteran Chris Martin at the wrong time.

James Franklin could be in the enlarged group, but who to do the spin bowling?

Nathan McCullum, uncapped but a short game veteran, is capable of tying up one end while the seamers attack from the other; Auckland's left-armer Bruce Martin, also uncapped, is among the wickets again.

Then there's Jeetan Patel, who should not even be discussed after South Africa.

His batting was embarrassing; his bowling ineffective. His last four tests have produced five wickets. He's taken 52 in 19 tests at 48 apiece. Picking him now is basically akin to giving up a spot. He took five wickets at the Basin Reserve on Thursday. Even so, surely not.

One other option: play four seamers and use Williamson's part-time offspin. Unlikely, but certainly it will have been mooted.

Possible test squad for Dunedin: Brendon McCullum (c), Peter Fulton, Aaron Redmond, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Dean Brownlie, BJ Watling, James Franklin, Nathan McCullum, Tim Southee, Doug Bracewell, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner.

- NZ Herald

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