Former England captain Nasser Hussain believes the move of Black Caps skipper Brendon McCullum back down the batting order is the right call, ahead of the three-match test series with the No 2-ranked side next month.
McCullum, who will lead for New Zealand for the first time in a home series, beginning in Dunedin on March 6, has scored 947 runs as a test opener, since making the move for the first time against India, in Ahmedabad, in November 2010.
But for a five-match experimentation as first drop last year, McCullum has stayed there since, averaging 35.07, while scoring six 50s and a double ton, against India in Hyderabad, in his second test in the role.
Yet since last August, McCullum has struggled facing the new ball - scoring just 289 runs, with just two fifties, at only 24.08. Coach Mike Hesson said yesterday that the skipper will bat at No 5 in the upcoming tests, and Hussain, regarded as one of England's best test captains, thinks it is the right call.
"I see him much more as a counter-attacking middle-order batsman in test matches, and at the top of the order in T20s and one-dayers," he said.
"With bowlers like [James] Anderson, [Stuart] Broad and [Steven] Finn with the new ball in New Zealand - it's going to be difficult for Brendon to rein in his natural attacking instincts.
"With someone like Anderson up-front in New Zealand, that could be really difficult to do. I'd rather see opening batsmen getting their heads down trying to see off Anderson, Finn and Broad and then someone like Brendon, when the ball goes softer, coming in and counter-attacking in the middle order."
Hussain captained his country in 45 tests between 1999 and 2003, winning 17 times - the fourth most behind Michael Vaughan (26), Peter May (20) and Mike Brearley (18).
The former Essex batsman was commentating on the recent India-England test series when he learned McCullum was to replace Ross Taylor as Black Caps skipper, and admits the decision took him by surprise.
"From what I'd seen, Ross had done a pretty good job as captain of New Zealand," Hussain said. "He'd led from the front, he'd been batting well. New Zealand's performances - giving the injury crisis they've had, the change in era they've had recently and their resources - were going in the right direction.
"To draw in Sri Lanka is not easy. So I was very surprised. In England, it came completely left-field." Hussain believes McCullum will do a good job as skipper however, and that the in-camp situation with Taylor will resolve itself - much like when Kevin Pietersen was stripped of the English captaincy in early 2009.
"England went through a similar situation with Peterson and Peter Moores the coach - and something good came out of it," he said.
"Strauss and Flower came out of it and produced a very good England cricket team. Hopefully New Zealand can try and take some positives out of what was a bit of a messy situation, to be honest.
"The main thing now for Ross is to come back in and get runs. He's a fabulous player - and New Zealand definitely need his runs"
Hussain, who ended his 96-test, 14-year career in 2004, said England need to win their three-match series with New Zealand if they hope to retain the No 1 test ranking. In the shorter form, he is more eyeing all round "improvement" against a more competitive Kiwi side.
"[England] need to win the test series if they consider themselves in the discussion with South Africa again for the No 1 test playing side in the world," Hussain said.
"I've got a huge amount of respect for New Zealand Cricket. I've been there and lost series out there. In my era, under Stephen Fleming, they were a very difficult side to beat - and still are. Just a little more consistency is what I'd like to see in the one-dayers, especially from the batting lineup. T20 is a lottery - I think T20 and the one-dayers will be close.
"New Zealand have always been a very challenging one-day outfit - we saw that in South Africa. We've seen that in these warmup games, they've got some very good up-and-coming T20 players, and one-day specialists.
"I expect that to be a lot closer. I just want to see England continue on their upward path really."
- © Fairfax NZ News