Peter Fulton stands tall in unsexy self-denial

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 27/03/2013
'A TOUGH BUGGER': Peter Fulton's stoicism seems to come from an old-fashioned place.
Reuters
EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS: Peter Fulton was a revelation for the Black Caps in the test series against England.

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OPINION: Oh yes, the tribulations of struggling England was life-affirming stuff. But it wasn't the assault, it wasn't the savage six-hitting on the penultimate afternoon that should have won the test match.

It was the first morning plod, the self-denial of Peter Fulton, the ability to leave well alone, all the things that aren't very sexy in modern society.

Fulton's stoicism seems to come from an old-fashioned place, where men grunted, threw their socks in a corner to freshen up and then went out and won a couple of Victoria Crosses. Two-metre Peter was once thought by some to be a future Kiwi captain, but apparently he didn't measure up, didn't have the social patter, he wasn't quite "nice" enough.

Well, what a mess New Zealand cricket ended up in when it thought like that. It kept sending flash Harrys and Brendons up to the top of the order, blade-wielders with fast hands and short attention spans. And guess what, they kept getting out.

Before Fulton and Hamish Rutherford came together in Dunedin the previous 12 opening partnerships had amassed a top score of 40. The average tally against the West Indies, Sri Lanka, India and South Africa was a paltry 17.

It was no way to go about winning test matches, but New Zealand would have continued this way if Martin Guptill hadn't been injured. Guptill might fight Brownlie for the No 5 spot but he doesn't look a test opener. Mike Hesson is a lucky coach.

Perhaps New Zealand had been seduced by the glamour of other sides. They remembered Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes with starry eyes or envied the manner in which those cocksure Aussies Michael Slater and Matthew Hayden had bludgeoned the opposition.

But these were freaks of batting nature. Geoffrey Boycott, old stonewall himself, was much closer to the mark when he said: "Test matches are won by long innings, not brief, hard-hitting ones, however spectacular they may seem ... If I bat for a day and a half and make a big score, that is half the battle."

Boycott used to talk of feeling physically sick when he was out. The only New Zealander who has looked physically sick in recent times is Kane Williamson, as yet again he strode out to the middle with next to nothing on the scoreboard and exposed to a rampant new ball attack.

Against England in this series New Zealand have averaged more than 50 for the first wicket and the openers have twice put their side in potentially winning positions. They put on 158 in Dunedin, a start from which New Zealand went on to boss the match. In Auckland, Fulton and Rutherford put on only 79 but it was a hugely significant partnership. They achieved the first objective, after England had won the toss, by seeing off the new ball.

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Fulton's 136 in the first innings of this test didn't have the glamorous shot-making of the second innings, but it was by far the more significant knock.

Glenn Turner, New Zealand's greatest opener, calls Fulton "a tough bugger". He also noticed that the opener seemed to have cured the fault of planting his front foot and playing around it. Against England it all came together, although a little long-term faith might have brought much greater rewards earlier in Fulton's career.

When asked what he regarded as the fundamentals of opening, Turner came up with some first principles that any young, aspiring Kiwi batsman might pin on his wall.

Turner said: "You need to be technically proficient, a master of the fundamentals, because you are up against the new ball and the opposition at its freshest. You need to know what 'arousal' levels work best. Some players are sleepy before they go out and need to wake up with a bit of shadow boxing. Others need to calm down. You need to understand who you are.

"Defend first, attack second. You may middle the swinging new ball through the covers for four, but it is too loose a shot for an opener. The main thought is occupation.

"The best openers concentrate on line rather than length. They are not tempted by the wide half-volley or the half-pitcher ... concentrate on playing close to yourself.

"Wait for the ball before committing, then move the feet. Fulton can still move his feet early at times and Rutherford doesn't clear his hip and can get tucked up. But he can also become a very good player if he asks the right questions and is ready to learn and work."

Just like Fulton.

New Zealand can be very proud of the Canterbury captain. He is an old-fashioned sort of hero.

- Fairfax Media

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