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Coach Mike Hesson is bracing for some tough selection discussions around his opening pair and how to fit Jimmy Neesham into the 11 for New Zealand's next test against the West Indies.
Some welcome and unwelcome selection headaches emerged from New Zealand's memorable test summer at home; three wins, two draws and a brace of series victories over West Indies and India which moved them up to seventh on the rankings.
Their next assignment in whites is a three-test series in the spin-friendly Caribbean, starting in late May, where there should be at least one new opener.
Peter Fulton is a valued senior man and leader but can't go on. Since his 61 in Dunedin in December, his eight subsequent test innings reaped 62 runs and a highest score of 13.
Hamish Rutherford hasn't passed 50 in his past eight innings either, but is at least making starts. In his favour is the fact Hesson and general manager national selection, Bruce Edgar, are loyal and seem unlikely to make a double change at the top.
"Bruce and I will certainly sit down and discuss that. We know it's the toughest job in the business, that's why there's a high turnover and both Peter and Hamish, although they didn't score a huge volume of runs, still did some good things for us throughout the series. We'll have to sit down and reflect on that," Hesson said.
"There's still plenty of domestic cricket to be played so we won't be rushing to any decisions. It's a tough job and we need to know that if we're going to make change we're making change to make the team stronger."
That's the question. Of the contenders, Tom Latham looks almost certain to come in for Fulton. The left-hander is rated highly and showed enough in the second innings at the Basin, batting 112 minutes for 29, that he has a solid defence and temperament to kick on.
Others in the mix are Aaron Redmond, who played the Dunedin test in the injured Kane Williamson's absence, Martin Guptill, Jeet Raval, Daniel Flynn and Michael Papps. The latter is the Plunket Shield's leading runscorer but has little traction with the national selectors, Raval is rated highly but isn't banging the door down with big runs, and Guptill has been tried and failed as a test opener but could be in the test squad mix as batting backup.
"It's a damn tough job and players can perform well domestically but the surfaces and sometimes the attacks at different times of year doesn't make it easy to compare players," Hesson said.
Neesham, meanwhile, seized his chance in the absence of legspinner Ish Sodhi with a debut century and leaves the tricky question of who misses out when Sodhi returns in the West Indies where pitches are expected to turn.
Hesson raised the prospect of playing two spinners in the Caribbean, which probably depends on whether Daniel Vettori (back) can prove his fitness, having set himself a deadline of the West Indies tour as to whether he will push on towards the World Cup.
If Neesham and Corey Anderson were both to play, then one of the three pacemen would have to drop out. Hesson said there was room for both allrounders and Sodhi in the same 11.
"Conditions will dictate what happens, and form and injuries and we're a number of months away from that. The calmness and the way Jimmy went about his work was impressive."
Hesson labelled Neesham's debut innings of 137 not out exceptional for the cool-headedness he showed, taking the pressure off captain Brendon McCullum as he became the first New Zealander to score a test triple century.
The team now have a short break before leaving for Dubai on March 8 for a pre-World Twenty20 camp. Hesson was a satisfied coach at the great strides his team made, particularly fighting out of a deep hole in Wellington.
"It defined the way we want to play our cricket," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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