Hawke's Bay Today
Guptill plays down variables
Opening batsman ready to uncork his sparkling vintage
You could argue the Black Caps have had more openers than forks, knives and spoons in their precious cutlery drawer as of late. Consequently it doesn’t come as a surprise that Martin Guptill fronted the media scrum with some clatter yesterday before the opening oneday international against Bangladesh at McLean Park, Napier, from 2pm today. Unlike other openers, Guptill, it seems, has mutated into a twist-top variety, in the mould of sparkling wines, where the pop and effervescent bubbles tend to steal the thunder from the ritual of unscrewing corks of the regular wine bottles. That cork-unscrewing exercise, for now, remains the domain of Colin Munro, Tim Seifert and Henry Nicholls to see who will secure the much sought-after role with Guptill when the 15-member squad is announced for ODI World Cup in England from May to July. On the flip side, it’s fair to deduce the champagne-popping ritual would have been most appropriate for the India ODI series that the tourists comfortably clinched, 4-1, last month. Guptill had hobbled off with a back injury on February 2, when India had sewn up the ODI series 3-1, while chucking a ball during practice at the Basin Reserve, Wellington. In October, he was left nursing a calf strain before the UAE tour. “Everything’s going well pretty well so far so I’m looking to get back into it,” said the 32-year-old soon after handing over 14-month-old daughter Harley to wife/TV presenter Laura McGoldrick for baby-sitting duties under the stadium. For all intents and purposes, any suggestion of pulling out the champagne against Bangladesh when the in-laws (India) have left seems like overkill — Guptill agreed. “It’s just all about going out there to keep to the game plan and making sure you can do the best job you can do for the team.” The 166 ODI-match veteran, who has carved 14 centuries and 34 half tons at a strike rate of 86.7, went as far as impressing the portfolio of the openers was no different to any other pairing trying to forge a matchdefining partnership. “No, it hasn’t worked for us this summer, opening the batting, but you get times like that and you get other times when you can go out and hit from ball one to build prosperous partnerships at the top.” Therein lies the mindset that coach Gary Stead, picking up from the last regime, and captain Kane Williamson advocate — a bolshy one where the openers come out firing, akin to baton-wielding riot police, for that capitalist platform for the adroit pairing of Williamson and Ross Taylor to exploit before more Twenty20type slogging for a don’t-argue total. The more prudent prescribe to some restraint, in the mould of many India innings, where the openers tended to catch up on the ball/run ratio once they have got their eye in and respected the good balls. But the Auckland Aces batsman — who one could argue, without disrespect to Bangladesh, might have been better off facing the likes of Doug Bracewell, Adam Milne, newbie Blair Tickner and spinner Ajaz Patel in the Burger King Super Smash T20 eliminator final on Friday — didn’t entertain any thoughts of conservatism. “We want to go out to play our natural game,” he said, adding they had had some tough wickets, including McLean Park, although the batsmen were equally culpable in not adapting smartly enough. However, Guptill said he tended to face a couple of overs to find his bearings but didn’t rule out a ball-one mentality today. Guptill played bat/pad to any romantic notions of right/left batting combinations, alluding to the halcyon days of Aussie lefties Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, now Australia coach, opening. He also tendered exhibits of himself opening with right handers — former Black Caps skipper Brendon McCullum and Williamson in T20s — as success stories. No doubt, the Black Caps are wiser for the shortcomings against India and aim to address them. It hardly matters, Guptill said, if the opening batsmen were relatively new because elite players were accustomed to easing into their roles globally in the franchise era these days. Frankly, Guptill has, lately, popped champagne when the in-laws have been away — 138 runs against Sri Lanka last month — and then cans of fizzies against India seamers Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar had his number at 5, 15, 13 and 14 for a lean patch. “It happens in cricket, doesn’t it — you have good innings then a wee trough,” he said, emphasising the need to ask for middle and legtoday with some clarity and confidence. With Taylor and other Black Caps often frothing around the mouth at the prospect of resurrecting their form at McLean Park, a jovial Guptill made light of his intentions: “Is my game under question here, is it?” As good as Bangladesh were in upsetting the Black Caps in Cardiff in June 2017 during the ICC Champions Trophy, they haven’t registered a win in this country in 10 ODIs. Shakib Al Hasan, who forged a double-century partnership with Mohammad Mahmudullah, is out of the ODI series here after fracturing his finger in the Bangladesh Premier League. Throw in the lack of traction for the tourists’ spin attack and you start getting the picture. “It’s going to be a tough series and Bangladesh are a quality side,” Guptill said, acknowledging they would miss the prowess of Al Hasan. He was mindful of sunstrike after the 7pm drop at McLean Park and had had to deal with it himself but felt the teams, with officials, would take it in their stride.