Low scores put NZ openers under the microscope

PRESSURE GOES ON: Black Caps openers Peter Fulton, left, and Hamish Rutherford have retained their places to face India.
PRESSURE GOES ON: Black Caps openers Peter Fulton, left, and Hamish Rutherford have retained their places to face India.

The heat is going on New Zealand openers Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford.

The Black Caps duo failed in the first innings against the West Indies in Hamilton yesterday, with Rutherford dismissed for 10 and Fulton 11 in ideal batting conditions.

After making a promising start to the series, the openers have been unconvincing of late and may need to shine in the second innings to cement their places for the next test series against India.

Both fell to sharp catches by Windies skipper Darren Sammy yesterday to raise some concerns over the partnership.

Rutherford's test average is still a handy 31.87 - but that's weighted heavily by his 171 on debut in Dunedin against England earlier this year.

The 24-year-old has only once gone past 50 since then in nine further tests. He started this series well with 62 in the first innings in Dunedin but has followed that with knocks of 20, 11 and 10.

Fulton is a similar story.

He has played 10 tests since his recall to the test arena - following a four-year absence - in March this year.

He almost spearheaded New Zealand to a series-winning victory over England in the third test at Eden Park later that month, making centuries in both innings.

But since then, the 34-year-old has collated 263 runs at an average of 23.91. He made 61 in Dunedin and has followed that with innings of 3, 6 and 11.

The pair has one century partnership in tests since teaming up early this year, which came in the first home test against England last summer.

A problem for selection boss Bruce Edgar - a former left-handed test opener - and Black Caps coach Mike Hesson is that there isn't an obvious contender putting pressure on the duo.

Martin Guptill and Jesse Ryder returned to the one-day fold this week for the upcoming series against the Windies and will both be pushing for places in the test side when India tour here early next year.

However, they loom as middle order options, with the slight possibility that Guptill could be shoe-horned into an opening role that hasn't been productive for him in tests.

Guptill began his test career as an opener against India at Seddon Park in 2009 and played seven matches at the top of the order before a shift into the middle order in 2010. In 2011, he was back facing the new ball and played 16 tests as opener before moving to No 6 against England at Headingley in May.

In 24 tests as an opener, Guptill has averaged 26.53, while his appearances from No 3 to No 6 have brought an average of 40.30.

Aaron Redmond, who opens for Otago and played the first test in Dunedin at No 3 when Kane Williamson was out through injury, may be the next option for Edgar and Hesson.

Northern Knights opener Daniel Flynn made an unbeaten 162 in the Plunket Shield against Auckland yesterday to remind those in charge that he's not a spent force. Flynn has also been shuffled between opener and the middle order at test level.

Auckland's Jeet Raval could come into consideration with a strong summer, and while Tom Latham isn't a regular opener, his unbeaten ton for Canterbury yesterday was another reminder of his undeniable talent.

A problem for the selectors is that there won't be any first-class cricket from the end of the fifth round of the Plunket Shield on Monday until late January.

With neither Fulton nor Rutherford in the Black Caps' one-day side for the initial matches against the Windies, they'll be left mainly with a diet of domestic Twenty20 matches to display their wares.

The test series against India starts on February 6, meaning the two rounds of the Plunket Shield to be completed before the test squad is named could be closely scrutinised for form at the top of the order.

Waikato Times