Brendon McCullum's days as a test opener appear to be over, with the New Zealand captain saying he was seriously considering batting at No 5 in next month's three-match series against England.
McCullum stopped short of confirming his shift down the order yesterday, but echoed the earlier comments of coach Mike Hesson that opening in test cricket may not be the position he can best contribute to the team.
"We'll have to entertain the thought of that as we get closer to the test matches then we'll firm up that batting lineup. But it's a definite consideration," McCullum said of the ever-growing school of thought that he would slip down to No 5 for the first test in Dunedin on March 6.
"The lessons we learned from South Africa suggested that there's some tweaks that need to be made. Not wholesale changes, but some tweaks."
A McCullum shift to No 5 would mark his most significant change in role since he relinquished the wicketkeeping gloves and shifted to opener for the tour of India in November 2010.
McCullum averages 35.77 as an opener, marginally above his overall average of 35.12, with his 225 at Hyderabad in 2010 standing out like a beacon. In 10 test innings at No 5, McCullum averages 26, the most recent against Australia in Brisbane in 2008.
Asked if he felt more comfortable down the order, McCullum said: "It's not a matter of feeling more comfortable, it's just working out where's the best spot that this team needs me to bat."
It leaves Peter Fulton, Daniel Flynn and perhaps Hamish Rutherford in a race to partner Martin Guptill at the top of the order, after the latter was given a vote of confidence by Hesson.
Fulton averages 63 in Plunket Shield cricket this season and scored 52 and 18 in the wicket-fest in Christchurch the past two days, while the newly-promoted Flynn averages 58 but missed out with three yesterday in Northern's runchase against Canterbury. Fulton was the preferred opener in South Africa before injuring his knee.
McCullum's shift and Ross Taylor's return would push Dean Brownlie to six and gloveman BJ Watling - who Hesson has said wasn't a contender to open - down to seven.
That leaves spaces for four specialist bowlers, three of which should be filled by Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Doug Bracewell. Southee joined the team for training yesterday at Eden Park with a plastic brace on his post-surgery left thumb and should be fit for the tests.
That leaves the question of a specialist spinner or all-rounder James Franklin at No 8.
None of the test venues (Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland) favour spin but talk around the team suggests the skipper's elder brother Nathan McCullum is a serious consideration given the recent struggles of Jeetan Patel, Bruce Martin and Todd Astle. The test squad is scheduled to be named on February 20.
Possible test 12: Martin Guptill, Peter Fulton, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum (captain), Dean Brownlie, BJ Watling, James Franklin, Nathan McCullum, Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee, Trent Boult.
- The Dominion Post