Hoppy happy to take on demanding role

Last updated 00:00 26/10/2007

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Gareth Hopkins makes no secret of his admiration for Glenn Turner as a batting coach.

The 30-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman has been named as a specialist batsman in the New Zealand one-day team for tours to South Africa and Australia - and among the first people he thought of was Turner.

Not so much because Turner is a member of the national selection panel, but because the former test opener and captain has moulded his batting technically, mentally and strategically during his time at Otago.

"I remember one day I was in the nets and I asked him `did you ever have a couple of options for a ball when you were attacking the bowling?' and he just looked at me and said `yes Hoppy, three or four'," Hopkins said.

"Working with Glenn has been so good for my batting. He picks up so much and knows so much.

"Initially, there were a lot of subtle things like grip and weight transfer but probably the most beneficial thing I got from Turns was game plans to bowlers, like playing outswing bowling as late as you can and not hitting off-spin bowlers through the cover.

"It fine-tuned my batting and got the percentages right, and my game came on."

Hopkins has been selected for the hard-hitting No6 role in South Africa, a lofty title for a man who has failed to score a domestic one-day century in 90 games for three provinces - Northern Districts, Canterbury and Otago.

However, there is no doubt he is a late maturer. Last summer was his finest, with 514 first-class runs including three centuries at an average of 85.66. There were a further 207 at 34.50 in the State Shield one-day competition, where his strike-rate of 111 runs per 100 balls was the best in the land.

Hopkins' role with New Zealand is to run quickly between the wickets and close the innings with a flourish, something Brendon McCullum made a name at before his promotion to the top of the one-day order.

"Closing things is the job Otago gave me and I've done it at New Zealand A level too," he said. "I'm quite comfortable in that role and I'm getting better at it. Brendon did pretty well at it, and I'm going to pick his brains.

"I also batted a bit with Chris Harris at Canterbury and I learned a lot off him. I still use a few of the things he taught me back then."

Hopkins is not the type to suffer from illusions of grandeur. There was no champagne on Tuesday night after he was picked or rushing to the local dairy on Wednesday morning to see what the local scribe had written.

He did not even realise that his selection for South Africa also applied for the Chappell-Hadlee series in Australia in December. "That was a bonus," he said.

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His philosophical attitude can perhaps be traced to a career in which doors have constantly closed on him.

It was all smooth to start with. He was born in Lower Hutt, moved to Taupo at the age of three and stayed there till he was 20, making the most of the Northern Districts age-grade teams and having one season in the first-class side.

But ND were captained from behind the stumps by Robbie Hart, so Hopkins high-tailed it for Canterbury when Lee Germon retired. But no sooner had he settled in Christchurch than McCullum decide to leave Otago, so Hopkins traded places.

McCullum has now decided to return to Otago, but Hopkins had already made plans to change to Auckland, where his wife has worked since June as a recruitment adviser.

"I get so much grief from the boys about all the teams I've played for, but the funny thing is I do consider myself as loyal," Hopkins said. "It is just the way it has worked out. I've really enjoyed my time at Otago."

Hopkins said his motto was based around winning the next game.

He says adding to the five one-day caps he earned in England in 2004 when McCullum returned home for personal reasons had never been a motivating factor.

Hopkins kept well in the Natwest series in England but got to bat only once and was run out by West Indies bowler Tino Best without facing a ball.

"There was only two balls left in the innings and Ian Butler jammed down on a yorker and I ran through and got run out," he said.

"For the last four to five years, I haven't thought much about playing for New Zealand. I'd just thought about winning games for Otago and New Zealand A. I got a taste in 2004 and it's nice to be back."

- The Dominion Post

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