Give McCullum and Guptill time to fix flaws
Two former test openers want Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill to remain at the top against England, with the captain given licence to play his natural attacking game.
Coach Mike Hesson said after the heavy South Africa test defeats that opening spots were up for grabs against England, with the only definitive statement that wicketkeeper B J Watling would remain at No 6 and not be pushed up the order.
Mark Richardson, New Zealand's most successful test opener of the past 15 years, would like to see McCullum and Guptill persevered with despite some technical flaws.
"I'd stick with them, and give them two tests. They've both been successful in the shorter forms, once they get their heads around making their defence more instinctive, then I think we'll see the best out of them.
"They've got a lot of hard work to do, but I can't see many others at the moment," said Richardson, who averaged 45 from 38 tests between 2000-2004.
"There's a few youngsters around who aren't quite there, then you look at giving Peter Fulton another life and I'm not against that if it's his only opportunity and he works hard at it, then Daniel Flynn, shuffling up and down the order and not quite able to make a go of anywhere."
Richardson said there were few other options for McCullum in the test lineup, with Kane Williamson established at three, Ross Taylor returning to four, and Dean Brownlie and Watling filling the next two spots after performing well in South Africa.
But McCullum needed to find more "flow" to his batting in tests. He scored 7, 51, 13 and 11 against South Africa, blunting the new ball then falling to Robin Peterson's left-arm spin three successive times. Richardson said it would be a "cop-out" for McCullum to move down the order and as captain he needed to lead from the top.
"It's a complete reversal then from seeing him play decent limited overs cricket when it flows and he takes risks and it comes off. In test cricket he's so conscious about the need to defend that he loses all the rhythm to his play."
Guptill, meanwhile, needed to focus solely on shoring up his technique in the next few weeks despite a regular diet of white ball cricket against England.
"I know that Guptill is tremendously determined to make it as a test player and so I'm prepared for him to work through the issues that he's got.
"But he's got to sort out that playing around his straight front pad and getting bowled and lbw. It's a technical issue for him . . . but it's the opener's sin."
Craig Cumming, who played 11 tests between 2005-2008 and scored 23 first-class centuries, said McCullum playing his natural game at the top would be the best way to put England's bowlers under pressure.
"The captaincy adds extra pressure but that's all part of it. You lead by example and the best way to deflect any criticism is to score runs," Cumming said.
"And you've got to remember how you're going to score runs and what your best style of scoring runs is.
"Look at Virender Sehwag, he's captained India and look what he does; David Warner is the vice-captain for Australia and look at the way he plays.
"It's just having total confidence in saying ‘this is the way I play and if I do it well, I will be successful'. That's the best way to lead by example and I believe Brendon can do that."
Cumming believed the pitches for the March tests in Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland would be largely batter-friendly and more suitable for McCullum and Guptill.
The latter needed to be given confidence by the selectors. His 48 in the second innings at Port Elizabeth was his first score over 15 in his past nine test knocks.
"I don't know how Martin is mentally. It's out of Guptill and Fulton for that other spot. Guppy has gone through quite a tough period but he's a very good player.
"We've chopped and changed regularly and one thing we've never shown is consistency in our selection, especially with opening batters.
"By saying ‘we believe you're good enough and we're going to give you the opportunity to show that', that is sometimes worth more than runs and gives you more confidence than a good score. I know that from personal experience."
The Dominion Post