Third Man Cricket » NZ v England Preview: Some things change, but some things never do : An Expat Cricket Website
NZ v England Preview: Some things change, but some things never do

Much may have happened since England’s last visit to New Zealand in 2008, but some things never change.

In the five years since England last toured, the visitors have risen to number one in the test rankings and slipped back again; New Zealand has dropped considerably in all formats; I have lived in five different cities (I followed the last tour from the US through cricinfo’s live scoring and New Zealand television news clips); 21 new faces have appeared in the New Zealand test team; 30 have come, and mostly gone, from the one-day team; five different coaches have been used by New Zealand; and we’ve seen one of the biggest off-field scandals in the country’s cricketing history – namely, Taylor-gate.

But, through all of it, two things have remained the same – the search for a quality opening pair and wicketkeeper in test cricket. As England arrives, New Zealand is really no closer to solving these problems than five years ago.

Since Brendon McCullum relinquished the gloves in test cricket, the Black Caps have used stock-gap measures Gareth Hopkins, Reece Young and Kruger van Wyk, along with the promising BJ Watling. Now, even though Watling has piled on the runs of late in both test and one-day cricket, there is still talk former Australian gloveman Luke Ronchi may force his way in for his superior work behind the stumps.

Personally, I believe this would be a step back for New Zealand, as it finally has a young, promising keeper-batsman to invest in. Watling, at 27, may not yet be the best keeper in New Zealand, but with the right coaching and time on his side, he can get there. His batting is compact, assured and backed by a good temperament.

Ronchi, on the other hand, is making waves down under for two reasons: firstly, because he’s scoring heavily in the domestic four-day competition and, secondly, because he’s played a handful of games for Australia. But far too much weight is being given to the latter. Australia is a top side, but these days it goes through limited-overs players like it’s going out of fashion, and has churned out some pretty average ones along the way – come in John Hastings, Steve Smith, and, cast your mind back, Brad Williams?

Point is, playing for Australia isn’t the be-all and end-all. I certainly hope New Zealand doesn’t opt for a former Aussie keeper on the wrong side of 30 when it has a perfectly good, and much more promising, option right in front of it.

To the openers, then. I’ll be honest here – I haven’t churned through the record books to dig out all the options explored by the New Zealand selectors since 2008. However, off the top of my head, I can think of Jamie How, Craig Cumming, Matthew Bell, Tim McIntosh, Daniel Flynn, Watling, Martin Guptill, and Brendon McCullum.

Okay, now I’ve just had a look, and I’d forgotten about Peter Ingram and Rob Nicol. That’s ten different openers in five years – two for each year.

The problem now facing New Zealand is its current openers, while established players in the side, are not doing the job required at the top of the order. McCullum is set to move back down the list, after putting his hand up to open a few years ago in a bid to get his side off to some positive starts, which he did with some success initially. However, his performances are fading and he appears confused about how to go about his game, while Guptill, one of the best strikers of the ball in world cricket and New Zealand’s 2012 cricketer of the year, has always struggled to compile big scores against top-quality test opposition.

As always, the replacements are the issue. Daniel Flynn and Peter Fulton have been touted as options, but both are doomed to fail. Flynn has been a classic look-good-for-30 player at test level so far, which is odd given his appetite for big runs at domestic level. He has a sound enough technique but has no big scores to his name and had a woeful tour of South Africa. Fulton is well past his best and is another of a large group of players who have belted domestic attacks and been recalled when everyone thought their international days were well over – look at Bell, How and Mathew Sinclair. All failed on their recalls.

McCullum, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Watling and Dean Brownlie are certainties in the top seven, which leaves two spots open. I’d give Guptill another crack, and maybe look at 23-year-old Hamish Rutherford to step in as his partner. But Rutherford needs to be an investment, not someone who faces the chop if he doesn’t get going in his first series and feels like he’s playing for his spot every time he goes out to bat.

As far as the bowling make-up for the tests goes, I’d play four seamers and ditch a spinner altogether, as we really don’t have anyone good enough without Daniel Vettori. But first up are the T20s, where the side is pretty settled. I’m not a fan of introducing players to international cricket at T20 level, as it’s hard enough to adapt to the quality of bowling without the added pressure of having to generate a strike rate, so I hope Rutherford doesn’t crumble under this pressure.

I’m picking 2-1 series wins to NZ in both the T20 and ODIs.

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