Bidwell: Opening wicket woes for Black Caps

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 19/03/2014
Brendon McCullum

LONE HAND:New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum during his unbeaten 59, which couldn't prevent a six-wicket defeat in yesterday's World T20 warmup match in Dhaka.

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OPINION: Let's start by all agreeing on something. As New Zealand teams go, the one that will contest the World Twenty20 tournament in Bangladesh is one of the better ones.

Not as good, say, as the one that routed India in the home summer, on bouncy wickets and with quick bowlers such as Matt Henry and Hamish Bennett in its arsenal.

But given the compromises caused by injury, a star batsman not being considered for selection and the conditions Bangladesh throws up, it's a pretty useful Black Caps squad.

On paper it possesses depth - it just needs to be properly utilised.

Yesterday morning's six-wicket loss to Pakistan, in a warm-up match at Dhaka, showed again how vital opening partnerships could be to the Black Caps at this tournament.

Six weeks ago, Jesse Ryder and Martin Guptill would have gone in first and with the hopes and confidence of the nation behind them.

Only Ryder's not in Bangladesh due to off-field issues and Guptill isn't in great nick.

Guptill made 11 against Pakistan, with new opening partner Kane Williamson going for seven.

More than any form of cricket, Twenty20 is about momentum. If Guptill and Williamson are to be New Zealand's openers, then that momentum is unlikely to be rapid. At his best, Guptill can take attacks to the cleaners. Except he's not quite there right now.

So steady progress would be acceptable from this pair, provided there's a platform for others to launch from. What would be criminal is for both openers to get out inside the first six overs, as happened against Pakistan when they both went within the opening 3.3 overs.

Brendon McCullum, in at No. 3, made 59 not out off 45 balls to steer his team to 145-9. But that was too few and underlined how hard it is for guys to come in and generate a strikerate on low, slow wickets if the initial momentum is poor.

"The benefit of it happening in a warmup game is I think we can learn from it. That's what kills you in Twenty20 cricket, when you lose wickets in clumps and it's hard to start obviously,'' fast bowler Tim Southee said.

New Zealand get another chance to get things right tonight, when they meet Australia in their final warmup match ahead of their first match of the tournament proper, against England on Sunday morning.

There will be a postscript to the Australian match, with the teams filing back out on to the Fatullah Main Stadium in Dhaka for a five-over slog each, plus a super over.

That kind of scenario training is common in these warmup matches, with New Zealand and Australia doing the same in Sri Lanka before the 2012 World Twenty20.

But what those addendums to the actual warm-up match won't answer is who the Black Caps should open the batting with and what tempo should they look to go at. Beyond Guptill and Williamson, Anton Devcich could provide a brisk 20 or 30 runs on a good day, plus good energy in the field and some handy left-arm spin.

Then, of course, there's captain McCullum. In these conditions it appears New Zealand will struggle to bowl teams out. That means they have to win the batting contest and, to do that, they'll need their best players to face as many balls as possible.

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On that basis, it'll be interesting to see whether McCullum goes back to opening at some stage, enabling everyone else to push up one spot. Ross Taylor, Colin Munro, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi and Jimmy Neesham at three, four, five, six and seven has a good look about it and would enable the team to pick an extra bowler and even employ a ''floater''.

- Fairfax Media

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