Cricket: Openers stake their claim as Plunket Shield begins

By Kris Shannon

Hamish Rutherford, who last played for the Black Caps in 2105, scored 143 for Otago on the opening day of the Plunket Shield season today. Photo / Graham Morris/www.cricketpix.com
Hamish Rutherford, who last played for the Black Caps in 2105, scored 143 for Otago on the opening day of the Plunket Shield season today. Photo / Graham Morris/www.cricketpix.com

The search for a potential replacement for Martin Guptill in the New Zealand test team began today, as a couple of contenders impressed to varying degrees on the opening day of the Plunket Shield season.

With Guptill under pressure for his opening spot after a succession of failures in white clothing, Jeet Raval and Hamish Rutherford appeal as candidates should the Black Caps' selectors opt to make a change for next month's two-test home series against Pakistan.

Raval, who travelled with the national team to Africa but played only in a warm-up game against Zimbabwe A, must be the most likely after a weight of first-class runs in recent seasons. And the 28-year-old had a solid start as Auckland kicked off their campaign against Wellington, although he would have been disappointed in failing to convert a promising innings into a significant score.

Raval made 47 after Auckland were sent in at Bay Oval in Mt Maunganui, forming a 99-run opening stand with Michael Guptill-Bunce before being caught behind from the bowling of new Wellington recruit Hamish Bennett. And the defending champions never recovered from the loss of their openers, eventually falling to 269 all out before reducing the Firebirds to 43-2 at stumps.

Rutherford, meanwhile, blasted 143 as Otago's batsmen blitzed Central Districts at Saxton Oval in Nelson, reaching 302-3 at the close of play after opting to bat first. The 27-year-old played the last of his 16 tests at the start of 2015, but produced in his first chance to impress.

Rutherford's innings came from 176 balls and was part of a 227-run partnership for the first wicket, with Brad Wilson making a patient 111 to set up the Volts nicely heading into the second day.

At Hagley Oval, the venue of the first test against Pakistan, Canterbury eventually enjoyed their work after being sent in, although it took an unbeaten century from No 6 Todd Astle for the hosts to secure a position of strength.

Astle, who must also retain test ambitions, showed he boasts more than just his leg spin, cracking 167 from 161 balls after entering with his side sitting on 60-4. Astle struck 22 boundaries in his highest first-class score, helping Canterbury reach 417-8 at stumps.

- NZ Herald

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