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Cricket: Prolific Raval set to be opener-in-waiting for Black Caps

Jeet Raval has averaged over 40 for the past five years. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Jeet Raval has averaged over 40 for the past five years. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Jeet Raval's presence will increase the pressure on New Zealand's test opening combination for the Zimbabwe and South Africa test tour.

Raval has a reliable back-foot technique and confidence in leaving the new ball, but New Zealand provincial openers can struggle when they reach the top level.

The 27-year-old Auckland left-hander has fashioned a strong record over the past five years, averaging more than 40 each season since 2011-12. That culminated in a 59.76 average across 20 first-class innings last season, including four centuries. Significantly, Raval scored 552 runs at 46 away from the batting-friendly Eden Park Outer Oval.

He has played 67 first-class matches, made 14 centuries and is recognised as a capable slip.

Incumbent opener Tom Latham appears ensconced at test level for now, averaging 39.47 in 33 innings since his 2014 debut in the position. A monumental dip in confidence would be required to remove him within the next season.

Last summer Latham averaged 35.53, including a century against Sri Lanka and two 50s against Australia.

His opening partner Martin Guptill made a century against Sri Lanka but struggled against Australia's stronger attack, averaging just 16.30 in 10 innings against the world's top-ranked side. He went past 23 just the once on his way to 45. That form contrasted with his Chappell-Hadlee Trophy ODI record where he averaged 60.

Mike Hesson's selection approach is to persevere with players through form blips. Previous openers Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford received more than 10 redemption opportunities once their form slumped. Expect Guptill, and perhaps Latham, to receive the same. They are likely to remain for the African tour, barring injury.

Raval will simultaneously be groomed and could debut in India, the land of his birth, in October.

As much as developing an alternative opening strategy, the policy highlights Hesson and fellow selector Gavin Larsen's confidence in Henry Nicholls.

Henry Nicholls set to be Brendon McCullum's replacement at No5.

Nicholls eked out 59 on debut against Australia last summer at No4 in Ross Taylor's absence, but struggled in his other three test innings. He demonstrated application in nine ODI innings, including a man-of-the-match 82 against Pakistan and 61 in a win over Australia. Expect him to receive more chances before his place is reassessed.

If Nicholls is ruled out for any reason, Luke Ronchi is the middle-order cover.

Ronchi scored 88 and 31 on debut as a wicketkeeper-batsman against England in last year's test win at Headingley, and will be raring for another chance.

The team depart for an eight-day camp in Johannesburg on July 11. The opening test against Zimbabwe starts July 29 in Harare.

- Herald on Sunday

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