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Why Ronchi as opener is a bad idea

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Martin_Guptill_New_Zealand_cricket_World_Cup_2015“Think about this, Martin. It’s the first game of the 2016 World T20 on a raging turner in Nagpur and Ashwin’s opening the bowling. Play out India’s biggest threat and then you can target the rest…

HA! There’s no need for that. They actually think we’re underdogs when we want to go head-to-head with them. Golfing a six off the very first ball should set them straight.”

And it worked. The drumrolls that ushered in the first ball fell silent in reaction to a massive crowd killer. A wicket off the next ball broke the Guinness World Record for most noise ever made in the history of humanity.

However, only a few balls later, Colin Munro had the audacity to reverse sweep a six to make it 14 off the over. 14 in one over on a 120 pitch was a huge bonus. More importantly, Kane’s Kiwis made it clear that the absence of the retired Brendon McCullum would not weaken their morale. They showed up to play. They showed up to win.

But 6 off 2 does not work in Test cricket. It has no impact. Far from being a statement of intent, this supposedly ‘aggressive’ approach is a way of backing down from the fight, so to speak. It’s a lot like saying, “Let’s face it. We’re not going to last very long so let’s play some shots and hope for the best.” Whatever happened to proper Test cricket?

 

Guptill’s average of 20.68 in 16 Asian outings, a far-cry from his impressive one-day record, is even more unacceptable when you consider that the first half of the innings is the best time to bat on dry pitches. Guptill cannot be given another go up top.

Having said that, Ronchi is a terrible replacement as opener. He does have the shots, he’s in form, and he’s opened several times in the shorter formats. But he is much too valuable in a middle order that contains an underperforming Ross Taylor. Ronchi is comfortable at 5, where he played proper Test cricket to end up as the Kiwi’s top scorer in Kanpur. Anyone watching him for the first time would not believe he had a First Class strike rate of 80+. So why rock the boat? Or in this case, why dismantle the main functional components of the boat?   

That leaves us with BJ Watling, an opener by trade, a proper Test cricketer, and the best option to tackle the new ball. Promoting someone like Watling who enjoys batting time is the truly ‘aggressive’ approach. This would make a strong statement that would sound a lot more like, “We can last as long as it takes to build a solid innings and we want one of our most patient, and most accomplished, to have a crack first up.”

The obvious concern with Watling opening would be his additional workload as keeper. On the other hand, it is worth noting that his two highest scores – 142*(333) and 124 (367) – have both come in games where he has kept wicket. Despite coming in at 7 on both occasions, his vigils were nothing short of marathons. So if workload becomes an issue, Ronchi can don the gloves, right?

Well, it’s not so simple. Watling was comfortable standing up to the spinners in Kanpur and a switch to Ronchi could result in expensive, game-changing dropped chances. In the World T20 game mentioned above, Ronchi juggled a Mitchell Santner delivery that beat Rohit Sharma’s outside edge. He was only able to complete the stumping because Rohit was halfway down the wicket, too unaware to get back. Luke got lucky.

The series is 1-0 as it stands. A possibly overworked Watling may be a price worth paying for a series decider at Indore.

It helps to think of New Zealand’s batting order as a water bottle with several holes, one of which is covered up by the adhesive tape that is Luke Ronchi. Guptill is clearly incapable of filling this hole, but pushing Ronchi up the order could expose the middle order to leaks that may empty the entire bottle and seal an inevitable Indian series win.

If New Zealand can get their batting composition right, they will once again silence a shocked Indian audience. Get it wrong, and they will be just another touring team that returns from India empty-handed.

 

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Jay Dansinghani is a freelance writer, researcher, and author based in Hong Kong. Jay got into deep...

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