Time for out of form Kiwi openers to step up

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 14:00 08/06/2014
Brendon McCullum
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IN CHARGE: Blacks Caps skipper Brendon McCullum has said whoever gets the two opening slots for the first test against the West Indies will feel lucky.

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Plan A sounds a good one.

Bat first, make in excess of 450, then expose the same soft underbelly that secured a home test series win over the West Indies just months ago.

It's just that Plan B might need to be put into operation not long after the start of New Zealand's first test against the West Indies at Jamaica's Sabina Park, which begins at 3am tomorrow morning (NZT).

The Black Caps have three opening batsmen on tour - Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford and Tom Latham - and captain Brendon McCullum basically said this morning that none of them deserve to play. Two will, obviously, but only by default.

He'd yet to decide on the final XI, with the opening spots still up in the air, along with a decision over whether left-armer Neil Wagner or off spinner Mark Craig will play.

One choice has already been forced, with allrounder Corey Anderson ruled out by a minor neck strain and likely to be replaced by Jimmy Neesham.

But it's the opening berths that are a real head scratcher and which could prove pivotal to New Zealand's chances of winning just their second test series in the Caribbean.

''The opening side of things is [that] I think whoever doesn't play will feel unlucky and whoever does play will feel lucky,'' McCullum told reporters in Jamaica.

Hardly a ringing endorsement of the candidates, but probably a fair one.

McCullum said he expected the Sabina Park pitch to be slow, not deteriorate a great deal and not go sideways for the quick bowlers.

But it could be abrasive enough to promote reverse swing, which is why Wagner is a strong candidate to play.

None of the bowlers will be able to achieve much, though, if the batsmen don't do their bit, the captain said.

''We need some runs, firstly. Make sure we get over that 450 in the first innings...that gives us a pretty good starting point to get into the test match and start to exert some pressure and hopefully be able to open up some of those frailties which we were able to open up at home in our own conditions,'' he said.

There looks a bit more starch to this Windies side, however, and they'll be highly motivated to produced a strong showing in honour of Chris Gayle. The Jamaican will, fittingly, play his 100th on home soil, having missed last year's tour to New Zealand with injury.

The 34-year-old Gayle will become the ninth man to play 100 tests for the West Indies and said it had been a long journey from playing street cricket in Kingston, to his test debut in 2000 and now this match.

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''In my first match I was a bit nervous, but then I had played a few ODIs before so I settled down pretty well. I remember it very well. I even shed tears,'' Gayle said.

''To share a dressing room with [Curtly] Ambrose and [Courtney] Walsh - and being at first slip with the two big men bowling and hitting edges and me taking a few catches - was very good for me.

"When I batted in the first innings I was feeling really good and was looking for a big score. I got run out [for 33] in a mix-up with Sherwin Campbell and I remember going back to the dressing room and I cried like a baby. I knew I was going to get a big one. It was a special match and I will remember for all time.

"Now I've reached my 100th match and it is special because it is at home. Sabina Park is my favourite ground. It has changed a bit over the years and it's very special to play cricket here at home with my family, friends and supporters in the crowd.''

McCullum said Gayle wasn't just a fine opening batsmen, but a good bloke, and the Black Caps had several plans in place to combat him.

''We'll know within a couple of overs how Chris is going to play. Whether he's going to entertain on his 100th test or he's going to be that determined Chris that's delivered two triple centuries in test cricket.'' 

- Stuff

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