Cricket: Watling to stay put, shift likely for McCullum

Blunting opposition attacks may not be the best use of Black Caps skipper Brendon McCullum's...
Blunting opposition attacks may not be the best use of Black Caps skipper Brendon McCullum's attacking talents.
Forget any thoughts of former test opener BJ Watling going back up the New Zealand test batting order.

But there could be a batting positional change for captain Brendon McCullum when England arrive for their ANZ international series next month.

New Zealand coach Mike Hesson firmly scotched any suggestion of returning wicketkeeper Watling to the opening spot against England.

Watling, who made his test debut as an opener, was New Zealand's most consistent batsman against South Africa, with successive scores of 42, 63 and 63 in the two tests, batting at No 6.

He looked comfortable in the role and was technically adept against the high-calibre South African attack.

One change among several being raised for the England series is the promotion of Wellington's former Australian ODI wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi, enabling Watling to move back to the top.

Hesson's not having any of it.

''BJ Watling has been shuffled around a lot. His performances at the top of the order against the new ball haven't been as good as lower down.

''He had a very good test series (against South Africa) and we won't want to be tinkering with that."

Ronchi became eligible for New Zealand on January 13, having been born in Dannevirke but having to sit out four years since his Australian appearances. His fans will have to wait.

Hesson rated Watling's wicketkeeping highly, knows he's working on improving aspects of his glovework.

''His keeping is going nicely. He's done everything that's been asked of him," Hesson said.

That's bad news for Ronchi's backers as McCullum has a lock on the two limited-overs versions of the game.

''Luke's a very good wicketkeeper and from a batting point of view has performed well in the long form. Luke's asking us good questions.

''He'll be involved in New Zealand XI games against England and that'll be a really good opportunity for us to gauge where he's at."

There had been a plan for McCullum to bat in the No 4 spot vacated for the South African tour by Ross Taylor. However Peter Fulton's leg injury before the first test forced McCullum back to the top of the order.

Hesson praised his determination but doubts it is the best use of McCullum's attacking talents.

''I don't think Brendon's game is suited to blunting the attack, but he applied himself. I don't think that's the role he's going to play best for this team," he said.

Hesson acknowledged New Zealand had been ''beaten up" for the last two weeks, which would have an affect on the players' confidence.

And he knows changes must be made for England. However he, like McCullum a day earlier, stressed they don't want to dump a group of players without giving them a chance to build on the lessons from South Africa.

''We want to make those decisions after a decent period of reflection rather than just emotion," Hesson said.

However the top order, in which Martin Guptill has also had big problems before his 48 in the second test at Port Elizabeth, is an area under the microsope.

''It's finding that balance between giving players confidence in selection and backing them during a period of time. You can do that as long as we're seeing improvements.

''But if people are applying themselves and showing character then we'll show faith in them. If you keep chopping and changing we'll go around in circles."

Hesson said the new few rounds of Plunket Shield matches would be important for players on the fringe of forcing their way in. Also those who did not fare well against South Africa need to shape up for their provinces.

New Zealand head for Paarl on Wednesday for the start of the three ODI games.

Several changes have been made to the squad, with Rob Nichol, Jimmy Neesham, Nathan McCullum, Ronnie Hira, Grant Elliott and Kyle Mills having arrived this week.

- David Leggat

Add a Comment