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Cricket: Top order concerns against pace top of the list

Martin Guptill struggled against the faster bowlers in South Africa. Picture / AP
Martin Guptill struggled against the faster bowlers in South Africa. Picture / AP

Let the deliberations begin on how to solve the batting vagaries of the Black Caps' top order*.

Selectors Mike Hesson and Gavin Larsen have some pondering to do before announcing their squad for the three-test Indian series next week.

With the exception of captain Kane Williamson and the largely absent Ross Taylor, they have failed consistently against the pace attacks of Australia and South Africa this year.

The test loss to the Proteas this week shadowed the clinical victories over Zimbabwe. With the three-test series against India beginning on September 22, technical concerns against the moving ball need resolving.

Zimbabwe must be persevered with if test cricket is to grow, but batting against their medium-pace attack effectively became a stat-padding exercise which masked the forthcoming application difficulties against Dale Steyn, Vern Philander, Kagiso Rabada and a feral pitch.

Despite the premature pitch deterioration, coach Hesson acknowledged the work ahead after their Centurion failure.

"On two occasions the top order was not able to get through the first spell which left a lot for the middle and lower order to do. That exposed some techniques at times. Those are things we're going to need to address."

Batting coach Craig McMillan hinted at their modus operandi on Radio Sport before the second innings of the loss, when both openers fell for golden ducks in the first over.

"We have to look to score because sooner or later one [ball] will have your name on it. There's no point hanging around for that, so we'll come out with positive intent starting at the top with [Martin] Guptill and [Tom] Latham. Hopefully we'll have a bit of luck, then anything's possible."

Of the top six, Guptill looks the most vulnerable for being dropped. Since his return to open at Lord's in May 2015, he has had 24 innings and averaged 29.54 (including Zimbabwe). He has had moments of brilliance, such as 156 against Sri Lanka in Dunedin, and remains one of the best white-ball batsmen this country has seen, but his weaknesses against the moving red ball are a liability.

If Guptill is persevered with in India, the swing of the ball at least tends to get blunted early. Other factors suggest Guptill is under pressure. Fellow opener Jeet Raval was taken on the tour to Africa, and Latham's spot appears safe for now with the best long-term opening average (38.85) since Mark Richardson.

Williamson's technique, temperament and average of 37.67 in the South African and Australian tests earn an exemption. He was dogged in most scenarios. Taylor, who scored 364 unbeaten runs against Zimbabwe, also gets a partial reprieve, given a side strain ruled him out against Australia and, at Centurion, he ran himself out in the first innings and received a cruel Dale Steyn zooter in the second.

Henry Nicholls was only elevated to the test ranks against Australia in Taylor's absence, so it's likely he will be persevered with as Brendon McCullum's successor at No5. He also added pluck against the Proteas with 36 and a top score of 76.

No6 remains a spot in limbo with B-J Watling elevated in Corey Anderson's absence and Mitchell Santner moving to No7. A tail that starts at No8 with Doug Bracewell (average 13.85), as opposed to relying on spinner Mark Craig (average 41.85) over the last two years, is another factor restricting run flow.

The New Zealand team leave for India on September 11.

*Yes, they belted Zimbabwe to all parts, but this is about addressing issues against the world's best attacks.

Out of order

The top order's performance in the four tests against Australia and South Africa since February. In first innings:

• The top four wickets fell for less than 100 and survived no more than 31 overs. In the case of Durban, it was 15 for two before play was abandoned.

• In the three completed innings, no more than two top-six batsmen scored more than 20.

• The opening stands between Martin Guptill and Tom Latham were 17, 21, 7 and 13.

In second innings:

• Recoveries (178-4 from 62.3 overs and 105-4 from 34.5 overs) were strong in the tests against Australia but then came the 7-4 slump against South Africa at Centurion.

• The opening stands between Guptill and Latham were 81, 8 and 0. Their overall average partnership from all innings against Australia and South Africa this year is 21 from approximately 6.2 overs.

- NZ Herald

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