Should Martin Guptill continue as New Zealand's Test opener?
Sri Lanka tour of New Zealand 1st Test, Dec 10-14, 2015
Sri Lankan skipper, Angelo Matthews wins the toss and chooses to bowl first at Dunedin. He has a trio of seamers in Dushmantha Chameera, Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal apart from his own military medium. He also has the wily fox, Rangana Herath, who can give some revolutions to the old ball. Kiwi openers Martin Guptill and Tom Latham walk in on a bright and sunny day.
At the end of Day 1, New Zealand are at 409/8, scoring at more than 4 an over. Opener Martin Guptill had spent 370 minutes at the crease and made a blistering 156 from 234 balls that included 21 hits to the fence.
This was 10 Tests ago.
The Guptill today looks a shadow of the Test player that made that scintillating hundred in Dunedin. His recent Test record has gone from bad to wretched. He has averaged 20.85 in the Tests since the Sri Lankan series.
In his defence, he played against the top three bowling attacks in the world during this period - Australia in New Zealand, South Africa in South Africa and India in India. He had a Zimbabwean tour as a little respite, where he made 47, 87 and 11 in three outings.
But the Kiwis are surely running out of patience with Guptill in Tests. The move to promote Ronchi as an opener in the warm-up match in India is evidence of their concern about Guptill. Ronchi fared really well, scoring a century in the warm-up game, which was still not deemed enough to give him a go at the top in the place of Guptill.
Instead, left-handed Henry Nicholls, who made a fighting half-century in his last innings against South Africa, was sacrificed to accommodate Ronchi in the team.
Now let us take a look into Guptill’s performance in his last eight Test matches since the Sri Lanka series where he last scored a century.
Australia in New Zealand, Feb 2016
1st Test, Wellington
1st innings - Guptill c Smith b Hazlewood 18 (18)
Hazlewood had the ball swinging and wrecked the New Zealand top order with four wickets, Guptill one among them. He edged to second slip off an angled delivery seaming away from middle stump.
2nd innings – Guptill c Marsh b Lyon 45 (55)
After setting himself up for a good knock, Guptill threw away the start by slogging Lyon across the line and top edging to Marsh.
2nd Test, Christchurch
1st innings – Guptill c Burns b Pattinson 18 (22)
After surviving a testing period of swing, Guptill inside edged to short leg of a shorter delivery to one again depart for a low score.
2nd innings – Guptill c Nevill b Pattinson 0 (12)
A fired up Pattinson delivered a screamer to find the outside edge off a hapless Guptill.
New Zealand in Zimbabwe, July/Aug 2016
1st Test, Bulawayo
1st innings - Guptill c Ervine b Chibhabha 40 (88)
After a robust start in foreign conditions, Guptill eventually made a mistake he makes all too often- driving away from the body. The outside edge flew to gully where Ervine held on.
2nd innings- DNB
2nd Test, Bulawayo
1st innings – Guptill lbw Tiripano 87 (149)
Guptill was once again proding forward and missed a delivery that nipped back into him, another familiar issue he has. Inspite of making 87, he would be aware that against a mediocre Zimbabwean attack, bowling medium pace at 120kmph, this was not enough to keep his place.
2nd innings – Guptill c Nyumbu b Chinouya 11 (14)
This time he was out slashing at a wide delivery and giving catching practice to the gully.
New Zealand in South Africa, Aug 2016
1st Test, Durban
1st innings – Guptill lbw Steyn 7 (23)
After surviving a string of close leg before calls, Guptill made a mess of this incoming delivery from Steyn and was trapped in front for 7.
2nd innings- DNB
2nd Test, Centurion
1st innings – Guptill c Van Zyl b Philander 8 (13)
After nicking one which the same fielder dropped, Guptill managed to do the same to help Van Zyl make amends for his earlier drop. Frustrated by Philander’s probing length, he pushed away from his body and nicked to the slip cordon.
2nd innings – Guptill c Amla b Steyn 0 (1)
A classic Steyn outswinger had Guptill edging to the slips for zero. His woes against the swinging ball continued.
New Zealand in India, Sep/Oct 2016
1st Test, Kanpur
1st innings – Guptill lbw Yadav 21 (31)
Inswinger. Front leg stuck between middle and leg stump. Plumb in front. A familiar sight for bowlers against Guptill. The inswinger once again proved to be his downfall in the 1st Test against India.
2nd innings – Guptill c Vijay b Ashwin 0 (5)
He inside edges Ashwin on the sweep and the ball looped up off his pads to silly point. Thus ended Guptill’s hope of repaying the selectors faith in him.
2nd Test, Kolkata
1st innings- Guptill b Bhuvaneswar 13 (13)
Guptill was once again troubled by the inswing from Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and while attempting to leave, the ball ricocheted off the elbow onto his stumps.
2nd innings – Guptill lbw Ashwin 24 (49)
This time around, Guptill tried to defend Ashwin’s flighted off-spinner from a strange position and found himself trapped in front.
The summary of his recent dismissals reveal an interesting story about Guptil’s weaknesses. Three factors stand out in this regard:
a. His woes against the inswinger.
b. His tendency to drive away from the body off swinging balls.
c. His tendency to remain in ODI mode.
There is no doubting Guptill’s credentials as a white ball player. He has proved time and again that he is one of the best openers in his country in limited-overs cricket.
His spectacular double hundred against the Windies in the 2015 World Cup is one innings etched into the memory of every Kiwi fan. But that does not, or should not, be defining criteria to select him for Test matches, where his technique has been heavily exposed.
Among his weaknesses, the troubles against the swinging ball itself rules him out as a Test opener. Any good Test opener should be able to leave well and play the swinging ball on merit.
Guptill has failed miserably in this regard, managing to be dismissed off such balls even in sub-continental conditions. Like Australian all-rounder, Shane Watson, his tendency to push the front foot with a long stride outside makes him a heavy leg before wicket candidate, especially when that new ball is talking.
The tendency to attack, that comes naturally to Guptill is actually fine. But only if he uses it well, like Virender Sehwag or David Warner, who are admirable attacking Test batsmen. But Guptill has tended to chase wide balls or slog sweep spinners without really punishing the loose balls. His tendency to attack anything wide is putting him in big trouble as a Test batsman.
Comparison with replacements
Guptill’s First Class record also fades in comparison to some of the contenders for that opening spot in the Test team. He has a First Class average of 36.14 with 11 centuries in 100 first class games. His Test record pales further, with an average of 28.89 in 46 Tests with just three hundreds.
Luke Ronchi, considered as the backup opener on this tour to India, averages 39.8 in 94 First Class games with 15 hundreds. That he has plied half of his career in tougher conditions in Australia augers well for Ronchi, though his age does not.
Jeet Raval, the Indian-born opener from Central Districts, was picked for the tour to Zimbabwe and South Africa, but was dropped without getting a game. He averages 43.85 in First Class cricket with 14 hundreds to his name already.
Bharat Popli, another Indian-born batsman has had a stellar season in domestic cricket, finishing as the highest run scorer in the 2015/16 Plunket Shield. He averages 49.83 in 20 First Class games with three centuries.
Jeet Raval is 28 already and if New Zealand want to try him, this is the right time. Guptill’s woeful Test records aside, his deficiencies against the swinging ball, makes him a poor candidate to open with, in Tests.
Raval is an enterprising opener, with a strong technique. Having toured with the Kiwi Test team in the African safari, it is only fair that he gets a run in the team ahead of a failed experiment in Guptill.