Gloves off for Black Caps skipper McCullum

FIELD MARSHALL: Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum will call the shots from his field position in the first test against South Africa.
FIELD MARSHALL: Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum will call the shots from his field position in the first test against South Africa.

Black Caps skipper Brendon McCullum has turned down the keeper's gloves, and it seems his hands will be full without them at Newlands this week.

New Zealand's 28th test captain shot back an unequivocal "absolutely not" to growing murmurs he could make a bold statement and reclaim the wicketkeeping gloves, and bolster the middle order in the first test against South Africa, starting tomorrow (9.30pm NZ time).

B J Watling will keep wicket.

As he battles ongoing back issues, McCullum insists that facet of his test game has passed him by. And he could do without the gloves this week, anyway, as he tries to conjure 20 South African wickets in a daunting test captaincy debut, on top of facing the music as an opening batsman against Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and company.

After a gentle stroll in the park in Paarl, where the pitch and invitation XI were friendly in the three-day warmup game, a rumble in the jungle looms at Newlands.

"There's clearly going to be a tinge of green early on so it's going to be hard work for the batsmen. That's what we're anticipating," McCullum said.

If there's cloud cover and a calm, muggy morning, it could be all on for the quicks.

With New Zealand shorn of their best batsman, the unavailable Ross Taylor, it seemed McCullum might shuffle down to No 4. He batted there in the first innings in Paarl, but when recalled opener Peter Fulton hurt his knee and was sent home, it was back to the top with Martin Guptill.

Not that McCullum will be scared to bat first if he calls correctly at Graeme Smith's coin toss. "With a youngish batting lineup we want them batting in front of the game."

No 3 Kane Williamson scored a test-saving century in his last bat against South Africa in March, then follows the recalled Dean Brownlie, Daniel Flynn, B J Watling and all-rounder James Franklin. Brownlie, although very good on faster pitches, is the questionmark. He was recalled after being unwanted in the subcontinent, then struck down by a stomach bug and scored six in his comeback innings yesterday.

Watling, who played his previous test as an opener in the West Indies, wears the gloves for the second time in a test. His first was a handy one in Napier last January; 102 not out and four catches against a struggling Zimbabwe. Injury then struck, a hip bone inflammation, which handed Kruger van Wyk a debut in Dunedin against his country of birth.

Said McCullum: "B J kept really well in the warmup game on a tough surface. He's earned his chance, he banged down the door with his performances in the shorter version and he was the incumbent prior to his injury."

Watling was happy with his glovework in 120 overs in Paarl on a slow, low surface. "It's definitely improving, I've been working hard on it and I've definitely got better from a year ago."

The toughest selection call will be which pace bowler to omit. Neil Wagner seems most likely, with Chris Martin a logical replacement for the injured Tim Southee, and Trent Boult and Doug Bracewell the other incumbents from the 167-run win against Sri Lanka. Bracewell was rested in Paarl but got through plenty of net work, still short of his best in recent months. So impressed was coach Mike Hesson with the Black Caps' three days of toil that today was light duties only.

They'll face a home side with the swagger that comes with the world No 1 tag, at a venue they haven't lost at since 2006.

"There is . . . an amazing team spirit," wicketkeeper/batsman A B de Villiers said yesterday. "If we can come through this year with solid performances, we've got a good chance to dominate around the world for the next four or five years."

Short scoreboard: New Zealand 311-6 dec. and 117-2 (M Guptill 68no, B McCullum 28) drew with South African Invitation XI 359-7 dec.

Fairfax Media