Cricket: Favouring of Fulton in opening trio will have Papps fans puzzling

By David Leggat

Peter Fulton stays in the NZ squad despite a wretched run of home form this season. Photo / Getty Images
Peter Fulton stays in the NZ squad despite a wretched run of home form this season. Photo / Getty Images

The Michael Papps fan club will be scratching their heads, but the New Zealand selectors are adamant: Peter Fulton is one of the three best opening batsmen in the country.

Ergo, he stays in the New Zealand squad, despite a wretched run of home form this season, for the West Indies tour starting late next month.

The 35-year-old Cantabrian is one of three openers in the group of 15, alongside lefthanders Hamish Rutherford and Tom Latham. A three-into-two scenario is therefore in play for the first test at Sabina Park, Jamaica early in June.

Whereas Wellington's little veteran Papps, one year younger, has once more been plundering runs in the Plunket Shield - 841 at 64.69, for third on the aggregate list - Fulton has been doing it tough.

His test form at home against the West Indies and India was ordinary, 123 runs at 13.6, managing a string of 61, 3, 6, 11, 10, 13, 5, 13, 1.

But national coach Mike Hesson dropped a small hint at the end of the Indian test series in Wellington in February that the selectors - himself and national selection manager Bruce Edgar - had much to consider.

Hasty judgments were out and that vaguely indefinable line about qualities brought to the table had to be factored in.

Yesterday Hesson went further. "We consider him one of the top three openers for this tour." He acknowledged Papps' merits were discussed. Papps last played for New Zealand in November 2007. His struggles against the short-pitched South African bowling didn't help and have hung over him ever since.

Although Hesson talked of the door not closing on anyone in the first-class game, Papps must feel it finally shut yesterday.

"Peter provides the experience and skill in those conditions and we've got what we deem the best three," Hesson said.

Latham was the leading Plunket Shield runmaker this season with 948 at 79. He was separated from Papps by Michael Bracewell, second with 845 runs at 52 and rewarded with a trip to England in mid-year.

One of the arguments Hesson put up in Fulton's defence was runs made in Bangladesh last October. A 73 and 59 double came in the first test at Chittagong. Conditions are tipped to be similar in the Caribbean, slow and with a low bounce.

"Peter performed well in Bangladesh and was able to bat long periods," Hesson said, confident Fulton can put a grim season behind him. It is a big call when other contenders are making runs.

Since his recall after a three-year absence to face England at home last year, Fulton has made 652 runs at 31. Flypaper hands at second slip certainly help, as does being a popular older head and wise counsel within the team.

Just before the first test against India in February, philosophical Fulton acknowledged that "my career's not going to last forever and I just want to make every post a winner".

That was a struggle in the summer, but if he can capitalise on what are seen as favourable conditions in the Caribbean he'll have justified the selectors' faith, which should answer those who will struggle to see why their fancies haven't been given a chance.

Much will depend on the two warm-ups. Hesson was adamant yesterday: "Within those three, the positions will be very contestable".

Hesson also confirmed out-of-favour pair Jesse Ryder and Doug Bracewell were not considered for the West Indies tour.

The serial offenders, dumped after their late night out before the first Indian test in February, "haven't had enough time to show they've made progress and give us confidence as selectors that they are able to prepare accordingly", Hesson said.

He said the pair had to earn back the confidence of the selectors, "and that'll take time. How long? We'll see."

- NZ Herald

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