Monday, 6 November 2006

Picking a team

There has been some debate in the comments about the selection of future New Zealand teams. John Bracewell waded into the argument today, announcing to the Dominion-Post that he is considering pushing Brendon McCullum up the ranks to open and that Hamish Marshall’s continued selection depends on his form for Northern Districts.

Personally, the first thing I would like to see in ODI team selection is some revision in the roles our batsmen are expected to play. Bracewell outlined Vincent’s role last year. His view was that since New Zealand’s batting line-up is so strong, we might as well have a slogger at the top of the order. If the slog comes off it is all well and good, and if it doesn’t then our long tail should be able to compensate for the loss of an early wicket. New Zealand’s constant top order collapses make that plan utterly redundant. Vincent is a good player and he should be retained. But he should be in the team to do what he does best, punish bad balls, push quick singles and rotate the strike. If I were coach, I would spend some time with him to get his mind-set right. As Mark Greatbatch showed, once you become a slogger it becomes very hard to stop playing rash strokes.

So I would open with Vincent. And I would partner him with Nathan Astle. Stephen Fleming has done a good job as an opener, but one of the roles of the middle order is to rebuild once early wickets have been lost and I would back Fleming to do that better than Astle. Brendon McCullum has talent to burn, but I suspect that at the top of the order his aggressive hitting would be as ineffective as Vincent’s. I would save him for the death where he can perform miracles against tiring bowlers and an older ball.

Ross Taylor deserves his chance. He would follow Styris (presuming he is fit).

So I would have a top order of Vincent, Astle, Fleming, Styris and Taylor. I would then play Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum, Dan Vettori, James Franklin/Jeetan Patel, Kyle Mills and Shane Bond. One of Patel and Franklin would play depending on the state of the wicket. Franklin can be very poor on bad days, but his record is good and I think he is still improving. Peter Fulton and Mark Gillespie would also make the squad.

That leaves one spot left in the World Cup squad of 15.

At this stage I wouldn’t give that spot to Hamish Marshall. If Jesse Ryder’s early season form for Wellington is really good, then I would consider bringing him in. But at the moment I would be tempted to pick Matthew Sinclair ahead of Ryder. I know Sinclair has been given lots of chances, but he has been in tremendous domestic form and the wickets of the West Indies (which are predicted to be low and slow) should suit him. I don’t know whether taking him to Australia for the VB series would be a good idea though. Australian wickets really don’t suit his low-footwork game and he has had traumatic tours there in the past. Perhaps he should be in the squad for that tour, but should avoid any games in Perth.

That gives me the following squad of 15 for the Caribbean; Vincent, Astle, Fleming (c), Styris, Taylor, Oram, McCullum, Vettori, Franklin, Patel, Mills, Bond, Sinclair (or possibly Ryder), Gillespie and Fulton.

For next month’s tests against Sri Lanka I would bring in Jamie How to open. How would be another player that I would take aside and give a talking to. I would tell him that he is going to be picked as a specialist test opener and that his role is to provide support to the stroke-makers. If How’s early season domestic form is poor, then I would pick Auckland stone-waller Rob Nicol for that role instead.

Anyway, at this stage my first test XI against Sri Lanka would: How, Vincent, Fleming (c), Styris, Astle, Oram, McCullum, Vettori, Franklin, Mills and Bond. Mark Gillespie would be twelfth man to provide bowling cover. If it were a bit later in the season then I think I would pick Chris Martin ahead of him, but Martin hasn’t had much bowling lately.

One final note. Daryl Tuffey is on the comeback trail and played some tough pre-season cricket for Sutherland in the New South Wales club competition. I’m not counting on his return to the top level just yet, but he is one player to keep an eye on.

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