Guptill, McCullum and Taylor - the main problem

PETER JONES
Last updated 06:54 26/11/2012

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It appears that a solution to the Black Caps' problems is in the same "too-hard basket" as finding a dynamic leader of the New Zealand Labour Party.

At the risk of feeling like a schoolyard bully, forever picking on a defenceless target, I would like to point the finger at those I consider mainly responsible for the New Zealand cricket team's woes. Their names are Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor - supposedly our best three batsmen.

Their collective failure to perform is at the heart of our under-performing outfit. World class on their day, the trio's lack of consistency has meant the newer members of the team (the likes of Kane Williamson, Rob Nicol, BJ Watling, Dean Brownlie, Daniel Flynn) are being asked to take on responsibilities beyond their relative experience. Instead of playing supporting roles to the top three in the order, they are often required to provide the bulk of the runs, and missing out.

A comparison with successful test-playing nations is revealing. England's batting has relied heavily on Alistair Cook (84 tests/averaging 48.71/21 centuries), Andrew Strauss (100/40.91/21) and Kevin Pietersen (89/48.93/21); Australia relies heavily on Michael Clarke (84/50.84/20), Mike Hussey (74/50.50/17) and Ricky Ponting (166/52.54/41); South Africa has Hashim Amla (63/50.37/17), Graeme Smith (103/49.39/25) and Jacques Kallis (156/57.30/44); India has leant heavily on Virender Sehwag (99/50.89/23), Rahul Dravid (164/52.31/36) and the great Sachin Tendulkar (191/54.93/51); Sri Lanka can bank on Mahela Jayawardene (134/50.62/31), Kumar Sangakkara (112/56.44/30) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (81/41.21/14).

OK, there are certainly some all-time greats among that lot, but Taylor, McCullum and Guptill can be as good as most on their day - only problem is their days are few and far between. Their statistics underline that fact. Guptill has played 27 tests for an average of 32.98 and just two centuries. Taylor has played 42 tests, averages 41.80 and has managed seven tons. Undoubtedly the biggest culprit, given his talent, is McCullum. In his 69 tests he averages 35.92 and has scored just six centuries - the same number as Daniel Vettori - and three of them came against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe (statistics before tonight's second test in Sri Lanka).

If the blowtorch is to be directed at the Black Caps, I would suggest these guys should be feeling the most heat, especially given they are the on-field leaders.

The usual excuses have been trotted out. Our lack of playing numbers, the vast gap between first class and test levels; the influence of the shorter form of the game on our batting - all are viable, but wide of the mark. Our bowling attack, while not lethal, is handy and has potential. But, until our premier batsmen build test innings and produce three figures consistently at the top of the order our batting will never realise their potential.

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It's not a case of dropping messrs Guptill, Taylor and McCullum - there are none better - it's a case of turning their weaknesses into strengths.

Some random observations from another busy sporting weekend.

Wasn't it good to see Rarangi golfer Brook Hale force his way into the NZ Open field last week? It has been a long time since we were represented in the main draw. Memories were put to the test at Friday's Business House golf tournament, trying to come up with Marlborough participants at the Open. Elliot Boult and Garth Domigan, and maybe Richard Best, sprang to mind but not many others. If you have a suggestion please get in touch: peter.jones@fairfaxmedia.co.nz.

Premier netballer and former top athlete Zoe Johnson has quickly made her presence felt on the sevens scene. She was one of the stars of the Tasman women's side that reached the final of the South Island tournament in Timaru on Saturday, showing skills that belied the fact she has played very little rugby of any sort. Although they lost the final, Tasman booked a place in the national finals at Queenstown.

The Breakers must harden up. After their second resounding loss to the Perth Wildcats on Thursday the reigning champs need to drag out a full-length mirror and take a long, hard look at themselves - especially their big men. If they continue to let themselves be bullied by the boys from the west their chances of a ANBL three-peat will remain as low as Alex Pledger's rebounding stats.

A question for Sky Television. Is the seriously unfunny Mark Richardson their only "commentator" option? It's bad enough that the former test cricketer appears in every cricket show they produce, plus The Crowd Goes Wild and The Block NZ, now he pops up doing live coverage of the NZ Open golf. Is there no escape?

- The Marlborough Express

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