Tough at the top of New Zealand's batting order

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:03 05/02/2014
Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford
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PRESSURE GOES ON: Black Caps openers Peter Fulton, left, and Hamish Rutherford have retained their places to face India.

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Any way you twist it, opening the batting order has always been the toughest gig in cricket for one simple fact.

You are never judged as an individual, always as part of a pair. You might get big score after big score, but if the bloke at the other end constantly fails, you are viewed as being part of something unsuccessful, something flawed.

Such is the lot of Black Caps test openers Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford.

The first time they strode to the crease together, in the first test against England in Dunedin last March, New Zealand cricket looked to have found an opening pair for a new era.

Fulton and Rutherford put on 158, setting New Zealand up for an impressive performance to begin their three-match series with England.

Consistency has been elusive since. Including that first stand, Fulton and Rutherford have averaged 38.41 per opening partnership in 17 innings.

But remove that first one, however, and the average drops to 30.91, underwhelming when it comes to test cricket.

Fulton said the pair are growing in confidence and enjoying the responsibility of laying the platform.

"Our job is to score as many runs as we can individually, but our other job is to stay out there as long as you can without losing a wicket," Fulton told Fairfax Media yesterday.

"If we can do that, and make it a bit easier for the likes of Kane [Williamson], Ross [Taylor] and Brendon [McCullum], it's all the better.

"We've seen in the last twelve months the games where Hamish and I have got us off to a good start, most of the time it has led to a good score for the team."

Rutherford, whose own form has dipped since his first three tests against England last summer, backs up his partner.

"There was an interesting stat I read on Twitter or something that said since me and Fults started opening the batting, there has been a lot more hundreds and fifties from everyone," the Otago opener said.

Both openers are philosophical blokes, said Fulton, who recently become the highest scoring batsman in Canterbury's first-class history.

Both are specially philosophical about being dismissed. Why beat yourself up, after all?

"We don't talk too much about the specifics of it," Fulton said. "It's nice to have someone whose got something in common with you.

"We both have to go out there and face up to the first ball on Thursday. It's nice to know you're going into bat with someone who knows what you're going through. It's a pretty unique job, opening the batting in a test match.

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"It's never any fun when you have a failure, but I think we're both pretty philosophical and able to see the funny side of stuff as well. That helps.

"You might hit a ball poorly early on and that's your day over, you've got to be able to deal with that."

Rutherford's mixed form is often a talking point.

The 24-year-old test average is 34.87, but if you remove his first innings for New Zealand - that swashbuckling 171 against England in Dunedin - it sinks to 25.80.

Rutherford said doing it tough now will help him in the long run.

"I probably haven't put the performances on the board that I would have liked to," he said.

"Hopefully in the long run, going through that tough period will put me in good stead."

- Fairfax Media

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