READER REPORT:

Testing times, come on Guptill

ANDREW HOUSTON
Last updated 12:00 28/11/2013
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KING HIT: Martin Guptill celebrates hitting a four to make a century and win the match for New Zealand.

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Six, four, three, two, single, dot ball, go-o-o-o-o-ne!

This list is a batsman's preferred result from every ball in a Twenty20 match. For the batsman it's a simple game, see the ball, try to hit the boundary, if no boundary run like hell.

Test matches don't work like that and are often more exciting because of it.

One of the best innings ever was Danny Morrison's 14 not out off 133 balls on the final day of a test versus England. He scored as many boundaries that day as you or I did.

What Morrison's score doesn't show is that England needed only his wicket to secure victory and they had over three hours in which to get it.

With no chance of scoring the runs for victory all that mattered was staying not out.

For the modern batsman, deciding what mindset or approach to take at the crease in a game where time is not a factor is rarely as simple as the situation Morrison faced.

Should a batsman look to wear the bowler down with solid defence, or stamp his authority on the situation by playing aggressively to spread the field?

Rotate the strike with ones and twos, or look to leave the ball?

The simple - or pie in the sky - answer is that the batsman will adapt his game to the conditions, the opposition, and the game situation whilst still playing each ball on its merits.

Most batsmen have a single optimal style that best suits their abilities and instincts. You will often hear players refer to this as ''playing their natural game''.

Natural game is a player deciding how aggressively (fast scoring) they can play without overly raising the risk of being dismissed.

Two top Indian players, Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid have very different natural games, but have both been successful in their long careers, despite one being brutally aggressive and the other earning the defensive reputation coined in the nickname ''The Wall''.

Virender Sehwag

Test average: 49.34

Balls faced per dismissal: 60

Aggro factor: 42

Rahul Dravid

Test average: 52.31

Balls faced per dismissal: 123

Aggro factor: -11

The aggro factor, aggression factor, combines a batsman's strike rate and per cent of runs scored in boundaries, then compares them to the average specialist batsman from the modern era.

A batsman with -5 or below has a defensive style, -5 to 5 is neutral and above 5 is aggressive.

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Sehwag and Dravid are a perfect example of how in cricket there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Both have stellar averages over long careers, but score those runs in vastly different ways.

Sehwag's game has been built on aggression and scoring quickly; his aggro factor of 41 is by far the highest of any top order player in the past 20 years. The next highest is Chris Gayle with a factor of 21.

That aggression has a number of benefits (intimidating the bowler, changing the field), but mainly he scores so fast he does not need to stay in very long to accumulate his runs.

Dravid on the other hand was the most difficult batsman in the world to dismiss in the past 20 years averaging 123 balls per dismissal. His runs did not come quickly though.

His aggro factor of -11 is actually higher than other crease occupiers like Chanderpaul (-16) and Mark Richardson (-17) and plenty high enough to ensure a test average over 50.

COME ON GUPPY

The first time Martin Guptill played cricket for New Zealand as a 23-year-old, he scored 122 not out in a 50 over ODI versus the West Indies.

Watching the game at the time, I remember being impressed not just with his balance and graceful shot-making, but with the composure and tempo he played his innings with.

There was little of the apparent frenzy or brutal slogging that sometimes overtook New Zealand's other top batsmen like Taylor (cow-corner slog-sweeper) or McCullum (down the pitch windmiller).

On that day, I was sure that New Zealand had found its cornerstone opening batsman for the next 15 years.

It's now four years later, and so far he has been cornerstone and millstone in equal parts!

Here are Guptill's test numbers:

Tests: 31

Average: 29.62

Balls faced per dismissal: 68

Aggro factor: -7

The expectations on Guptill since he burst on the international scene have always been that he would develop into a world-class performer with an average around 45.

Watching Guptill play, and looking deeper at the numbers gives me hope that the promise he has shown can still be fulfilled.

He has maintained averages above 35 in test and limited-overs formats and strikes higher in both formats than Ross Taylor (who has a much better test record).

Guptill: 83 SR in ODIs and 124 in Twenty20

Taylor: 81 SR in ODIs and 120 in Twenty20

There have been other players who have excelled at limited overs cricket but never truly conquered the test game.

Those players have more often than not had a single technical deficiency that would be exposed in test cricket, but hidden in limited overs games.

Michael Bevan could not handle short pitched bowling, Chris Harris struggled mightily with the seaming/swinging ball, and Andrew Symonds was too... ummm... rebellious.

Guptill, though, does not appear to have that single technical weakness to doom his test career.

He plays very straight in defence and attack, using his height and reach to his benefit to come closer to the pitch of the ball than most.

High bouncers have given him occasional problems, but in recent times he has limited his pull shots to when they are slightly lower (chest and below) which is actually a strong shot for him.

The issue for Guptill in tests is a problem of mindset, not technique.

So far he has failed to find how he should play and has attempted to curb his natural game with dogged determination and defence rather than embrace his natural shot-making.

Just watch him play and you can see the difference in his tempo and body language.

"Limited overs" Guptill defends when necessary, rotates the strike well, and will hit boundaries when he sees the opportunity.

"Test" Guptill, however, seemingly looks mainly to leave and defend, with an occasional boundary shot to relieve the pressure.

I am not saying that Guptill should bat in Twenty20 mode and play like Sehwag but his aggro factor of -7 is well below average and miles away from a player like Taylor (+8) who we know scores at similar levels to Guptill in limited overs cricket.

Players who have similar aggro factors to Guptill are Andrew Strauss (-5), Mike Hussey (-6) and Jacques Kallis, all of whom are fantastic players, but their strengths are based on defence and patience.

Guptill's record in limited overs and poor record in tests shows he's just not that kind of player.

As a naturally free-flowing player, Guptill can be a victim of scoreboard pressure.

If he were to score at a higher tempo he should at least be able to maintain his current average innings length and may actually increase his average balls per innings average.

''Test'' Guptill needs to stop trying to play like Mark Richardson or John Wright and be more like "limited overs" Guptill, who has already shown he has what it takes to be world class.

So when he comes back from injury this summer, I hope to see more him finally show some aggro and understand that sometimes the best defence is a good offence.


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