Cricket: Opportunity knocks for opener

Otago batsman Hamish Rutherford concentrates during a net session at the University Oval...
Otago batsman Hamish Rutherford concentrates during a net session at the University Oval yesterday. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Otago opener Hamish Rutherford is still planning on getting his side off to a cracking start - he is just planning on doing it at a more sedate pace.

The exciting left-hander played in all 11 games during Otago's successful twenty/20 campaign. He was the team's third-leading scorer with 300 runs, posted two half centuries and maintained a fabulous strike rate of 140.84 with some superb drives and crisp cut shots.

But the coloured clothing goes back on the hanger for the next month as the Plunket Shield resumes today.

Otago will host Wellington, the team it vanquished in Sunday's twenty/20 final.

Both teams might be a bit flat. While the twenty/20 campaign is not that physically taxing, it does require a lot of mental energy and the increase in workload will be a challenge for the players.

For Rutherford, there is a sudden shift from an attacking mindset to a more cautious approach.

Rather than looking to hit over the top and capitalise on the fielding restrictions in the opening six overs, he will be trying to take the paint off the red ball and wait for the sun to bake the pitch.

''It is a new challenge,'' Rutherford said.

''There is only a couple of days between [competitions] but it should be all right. And there is nothing you can do about it, really.

''I've just got to face the red ball as much as possible and get used to leaving the ball.''

Rutherford made headlines last summer with a superb finish to the first-class season. The 23-year-old had a golden March, scoring 607 runs, including back-to-back centuries and a double century.

First-class runs have been harder to come by this summer. In six games, he has scored 329 runs at an average of 27.41.

''I've had a few starts but have not really kicked on yet, which is disappointing. There is still a lot of time left in the season to kick on.''

He joked: ''Wait until March.''

Despite Rutherford's modest run, former Black Cap and Sky commentator Simon Doull believes the young man might be the answer to New Zealand's troubles at the top of the order.

Doull posted a test team on Twitter recently which included Rutherford at the expense of incumbent opener Martin Guptill, who has struggled at test level.

There has also been talk that Brendon McCullum might drop down the order. Either way, it appears there could be opportunities for the home series against England. The first test is in Dunedin, at the University Oval, in March, and March has been awfully kind to Rutherford.

While Rutherford still has plenty to prove, so does Otago. The team is in second place on the competition table with 57 points from six games. Central Districts has a useful buffer at the top with 74 points. But with a maximum of 20 points up for grabs each game, Otago remains firmly in contention.

Coach Vaughn Johnson expressed concern about the quick turnaround but was confident his side would adjust.

''To be honest, I'd have loved to have a week off now where we can let the boys go away for three or four days. But we have not got that, so there is no use thinking about that,'' Johnson said.

''We've had an enjoyable couple of days but the reality is we are back to work. The red ball comes out, the bowling lengths change, the mental approach changes in terms of batting and our overall plans are adjusted slightly.''

With Grant Elliott in South Africa, Michael Pollard comes back into Wellington's Plunket Shield side for the first time since the opening round. Spinner Jeetan Patel is unavailable, leading to the recall of Mark Houghton, who last played first-class cricket two seasons ago. Pace bowlers Andy McKay and Mark Gillespie remain on the injury list.

In other games, Central Districts host Canterbury at McLean Park, and Northern Districts host Auckland in Hamilton.

Otago v Wellington
University Oval, today
Hamish Rutherford, Aaron Redmond, Michael Bracewell, Neil Broom, Sam Wells, Derek de Boorder (captain), Mark Craig, Ian Butler, Nick Beard, James Fuller, Blair Soper, Jacob Duffy, Iain Robertson.

Wellington: Steven Murdoch (captain), Josh Brodie, Harry Boam, Tipene Friday, Mark Gillespie, Mark Houghton, Scott Kuggeleijn, Michael Papps, Michael Pollard, Luke Ronchi, Jesse Ryder, Malaesaili Tugaga, Luke Woodcock.

Plunket Shield points: Central Districts 74, Otago 57, Auckland 51, Wellington 47, Canterbury 39, Northern Districts 35.


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