Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: Opening berth there for taking

Michael Bracewell. Photo / Getty Images
Michael Bracewell. Photo / Getty Images

Michael Bracewell has an 'open' invitation to seize a test spot next month.

The New Zealand A team's tour of England begins this week with the Otago left-hander, along with test incumbents Tom Latham and Hamish Rutherford, in contention to open in two three-day matches against Kent and Surrey.

With New Zealand's middle order established, Dean Brownlie has also volunteered his services but remains a No5 or 6 option for now. Bracewell, who batted at No 3 for Otago last summer, is seen as a logical opening option, given Kane Williamson has a mortgage on first drop for the foreseeable future.

The tour starts with nine one-day matches to examine who might earn peripheral places in next year's World Cup squad. Bracewell joins the squad for the first-class itinerary later on.

In last season's Plunket Shield, the 23-year-old scored 845 runs at 52.81. His total of four centuries, at a conversion rate of 80 per cent once he reached 50, was matched only by Jesse Ryder and James Franklin.

Latham secured one opening spot on the West Indies tour with three 50s from six innings and an average of 48 but Rutherford is struggling for form.

Martin Guptill and Jeet Raval will come into consideration but Bracewell has first dibs.

Success should see him pencilled in for the three November tests against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates. His stance and high backlift produce a strong driving game backed by solid defence and a sixth sense as to the location of his off stump.

"One good season doesn't make you a successful first-class cricketer," Bracewell says. " It'll be good to get further experience in English conditions having not played first-class cricket here."

This is where Bracewell's modesty needs a prod. He has played in England's second XI competition as part of the Marylebone Cricket Club's Young Cricketers after earning the right to be New Zealand's representative on the Lord's groundstaff in 2009, a prestigious role whose alumni include Martin Crowe and Ross Taylor.

"It helped me learn what it takes to become a professional,"he says. "I was there for the Ashes when 'Freddie' Flintoff took his only five-wicket bag in a Lord's test. It was amazing. We also helped out at practices. Seeing how players went about their prep was eye-opening.

"I was lucky enough to play two games on the main ground and the lunches were also something I'll never forget ... outstanding."

Bracewell, from a family renowned for their exceptional sporting accomplishments, is spending the English summer playing at the Downend club in Gloucestershire, the county coached by his uncle John Bracewell. Downend is a suburb of Bristol, and the 1848 birthplace of William Gilbert Grace. The club's home is called the WG Grace Memorial Ground.

"Apparently he lived across the road and played a couple of games there," Bracewell says of cricket's most famous bearded doctor. "The groundsman told me there's one particular area that dries quickest and that's where he used to train."

Grace is not the only former test cricketer Bracewell has come across this season. The Lashings celebrity invitation side played a fixture last month. They turned out an XI featuring former internationals Herschelle Gibbs, Saqlain Mushtaq and current England international Michael Carberry. Bracewell bowled Gibbs and made 52 off 25 balls before falling at long on as one of Saqlain's five victims.

- Herald on Sunday

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