Cricket: Openers woefully short on runs

By David Leggat

In his last six innings opener Peter Fulton has averaged 8. Photo / Getty Images
In his last six innings opener Peter Fulton has averaged 8. Photo / Getty Images

Back to the cricket - New Zealand have a ticklish question to address before the second test against India starts at the Basin Reserve on Friday.

They have won their last three tests using the same 11 players and that's a cause for considerable delight. The last time New Zealand had a hat-trick of test wins was January-March 2008, two against Bangladesh and one against England.

This comes on the back of a 10-test run comprised exclusively of losses and draws.

However there are two points which are worth hard thinking before Friday, and they are related.

Opening batsmen Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford are desperately short of recent runs.

Overall, Fulton is averaging 28, Rutherford 31.3. Fulton's last six innings have produced 3, 6, 11, 10, 13 and 5; Rutherford has had one half century in 18 innings since hitting 171 in his maiden innings against England last March.

Coach Mike Hesson acknowledging both had poor tests in the Eden Park win, expressed confidence the pair will come right at the Basin Reserve, as he must.

But what if they remain in their present trough?

India will come hard at them to try to square the series after their 40-run loss in Auckland.

New Zealand could do with all the batting depth they can muster.

Jimmy Neesham, uncapped at test level but a regular limited-overs player, is averaging an excellent 68.4 in this summer's Plunket Shield, including a better than run-a-ball 147 in Otago's defeat by Central Districts on Monday.

His steady medium pacers have produced 19 wickets at 24.9.

Swapping Neesham, to bat at No8, in place of legspinner Ish Sodhi, for all Sodhi's usefulness with the bat, would add some insurance.

The problem with that is it would leave New Zealand's bowling attack looking decidedly one-dimensional.

After the in-form fast-medium trio of Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner, New Zealand would be left with Corey Anderson - who is useful but remains a batsman who can contribute 10 overs an innings - Neesham, who bowls at similar pace, and Kane Williamson as the only spin option.

There is a reluctance to over-burden the key batsman with too much bowling responsibility. Williamson's off spin is handy - he took four for 44 in 20 overs in England's second innings at Eden Park last season - and may develop in time.

At the Basin against the West Indies, and with a similar, seam-friendly pitch expected this week, Sodhi and Williamson bowled eight overs between them in New Zealand's innings win. West Indian pair Shane Shillingford and Narsingh Deonarine took two for 131.

Having no specialist spinner is risky. Hesson clearly rates Sodhi, who has made plenty of steps in his six successive tests since his debut. But they have produced just 11 wickets at 59 each, and India's batsmen tend to feast on spin.

"Ish didn't bowl his best. He was under pressure against guys who play spin very well," Hesson admitted. "He started on a good length and they put pressure on that and he struggled to adjust. But he's learning quick and he'll come back stronger."

That said, he added that four seamers, plus Anderson, is an option and, "we won't pick a spinner if we don't think he has a role to play in the test". Hesson wanted to reserve judgment until getting a look at the pitch today.

Black Caps squad
New Zealand squad for the second test against India starting in Wellington on Friday: Brendon McCullum (c), Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, BJ Watling, Jimmy Neesham, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult, Tom Latham.

Options for the second test
1. Retain the same XI. They've stayed intact for the last three tests, all won by New Zealand.
2. Bring in allrounder Jimmy Neesham for legspinner Ish Sodhi, whose 11 test wickets have cost 59.72 each. Neesham would bolster the batting depth at a time the openers are out of sorts.

- NZ Herald

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