Brendon McCullum's main test batting problem appears to be
balancing aggression with patience. Photo Getty
Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill have failed to
inspire as a test opening partnership since resuming against
India in August.
Their struggles mean New Zealand's middle order has been left
to face balls whose gilded lettering has barely been removed.
Before the second test against South Africa, the pair had
opened together 10 times since that first Indian test in
Hyderabad. Their highest partnership in that period was 32
runs (the second innings vs Sri Lanka in Colombo) and the
longest time spent at the wicket 14.3 overs (compiling 26 vs
India in Hyderabad).
To make matters worse, the highest partnership and longest
time at the crease in the first innings of tests has been 29
runs in 5.1 overs (vs Sri Lanka in Galle). On four occasions,
including two in the Cape Town test, they have not lasted two
In 19 opening stands since Guptill joined the team in 2009,
the pair have produced two century partnerships (vs Pakistan
in 2011 and Zimbabwe in 2012) but have otherwise not exceeded
44. They also produced a partnership of 123 for the second
wicket in the Antigua test loss to the West Indies in July.
As the batsmen underwent their short-range artillery training
after "that 45 innings", there appeared limited options for
change. Both players can make a strong case to remain in the
test XI given New Zealand's lack of depth.
New captain McCullum remains one of the touring party's best
batsmen, while Guptill won a rare Twenty20 international this
tour with a century against South Africa. While T20 can't be
compared to the test game, it shows Guptill has not lost his
Pushing either player down the order seems futile, as do the
opening alternatives. No new Mark Richardson or Glenn Turner
is demanding selection.
The only solution appears to be for McCullum and Guptill to
galvanise their techniques and banish any mental fragility;
not easy concepts to master when Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander
and Morne Morkel have been bearing down, albeit with
Philander missing the second test.
Emerging from their current partnership trough could be one
of the toughest things Guptill and McCullum address in their
McCullum's main test batting problem appears to be balancing
aggression with patience. It was a concept addressed by
former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe in his recent open
letter to Cricinfo before the second test against Sri Lanka.
Crowe recommended McCullum drop down the order to five.
Given that's unlikely to happen, he said the skipper needed
to build an "impregnable defence" to keep out wicket-taking
balls. Crowe pointed out once that happens, "the rest of the
balls you face are run-scoring opportunities". He said all
today's prolific run-scorers have "trained their mind to
sense once the ball leaves the hand whether it is a
wicket-taking ball or boundary ball".
Those thoughts are borne out in McCullum's recent record. He
is capable of getting to 50, having done so six times as an
opener in 27 test innings - including four in the first turn
at bat - but struggles to go on. McCullum has scored one
century opening for New Zealand (225 at Hyderabad in November
2010). His other five have come batting at No 7. His average
of 37.68 as an opener continues to drop towards his overall
test average of 35.52.
Former test opener-turned-media pundit Craig Cumming has
identified a problem with Guptill's straight front leg when
he plays forward. Cumming said it tends to be a limited-overs
habit - born of trying to make runs off every ball. More
tension at the point of impact combined with a seaming pitch
means the ball travels further when it collects the edge and
brings the slip cordon into play.
Guptill needs remedial work to boost an ailing test average
of 30.83 (26.62 as an opener).
He averages 245 against Bangladesh (from one test), 53.33
against Zimbabwe and 69.25 against the West Indies but less
than 20 against South Africa, Australia and Sri Lanka.
Guptill suffered criticism by some Twitter followers during
the week after noting he was embarking on a great white shark
diving excursion, despite making one run over 11 minutes and
12 deliveries in the opening test.
However, even cricket sides who get out for 45 need to take
their minds off work. The team practised on what would have
been days four and five in Cape Town. Guptill now needs to
prove those efforts to balance work and play have not been in
- Andrew Alderson