The biggest selection conundrum for New Zealand cricket coach Mike Hesson and captain Brendon McCullum (when he arrives in England from the Indian Premier League) is whether Martin Guptill or Hamish Rutherford will open with Tom Latham in the first test against England at Lord's this week.

Guptill is considered to be over the defensive frailties which meant his last test was two years ago at Headingley.

He's been in form since arriving at Derbyshire, scoring 451 runs at an average of 112.75, including a first-class best of 227 against Gloucestershire.

The 28-year-old opened with Latham on Friday night (NZT) at Worcestershire, making 35 off 53 balls in his return from a side strain. Donning the pads first indicates he has the edge over Rutherford.


Guptill's resume also includes the outstanding form he mustered opening at the World Cup, when he was the tournament's top run-scorer. He made 547 at 68.37 and a strike rate of 105 after overcoming intense scrutiny of his performances leading in. Guptill's coup de grace was 237 not out in the quarter-final against the West Indies in Wellington, the highest score in 11 editions of the tournament.

After dominating as an opener in the Plunket Shield over recent seasons, Guptill must be on the cusp of a reprieve, despite averaging 26.53 in the role across 45 previous test innings.

Conversely, Rutherford delivered runs at a crucial time after his 37 and 11 last week against Somerset. He made 75 off 140 balls, enduring 204 minutes to play himself into form and anchor New Zealand's first innings against Worcestershire. Batting at the unfamiliar spot of No 3, Rutherford entered in the third over and hit just five boundaries, a rarity for a player who loves punctuating the rope.

"It was nice to play an innings that's probably not normal to what I'm used to," he said. "At times, you can't play the expansive game [in England] which you might when you're back home."

Hesson and McCullum must now decide whether Rutherford can resist the temptation when presented with enough juicy deliveries outside off stump.

He drives as well as anyone but, if picked, England will be sure to stack the slip cordon and pitch up.

There must also be wider team concerns as the skipper, Kane Williamson, Trent Boult and Tim Southee, arguably New Zealand's most pivotal test players, prepare to arrive from India. Their only red-ball practice will have been whatever they could fit in around IPL trainings. New Zealand also haven't played a test in almost five months.

McCullum gave such preparation-based theories scant credibility in 2008 when he swaggered in from the IPL and made a run-a-ball 97, but he is a rare species.


In contrast, Williamson, being a man of method, faces an uncharacteristic scenario to ensure he's test-ready. He's played only two innings for the Sunrisers Hyderabad, compiling 26 not out and five, and his last innings was on April 13.