For ages, cricket has marveled at New Zealand cricket’s skills in countering pressure and their ability to claw their way back into a contest. So much of their fielding – throwing themselves at everything – has become part of cricketing folklore. We often hear about how the Kiwis fly through the air, picking catches as if plucking mangoes from a tree. And there’s so much more to enjoy, like the big heaves from Anderson, Williamson and co.’s bats and the felling of timber courtesy Boult, Southee and the rest.
It’s this coming together of a closely-knit side that makes the world love New Zealand cricket.
The funny thing is that so much about New Zealand leaves you reciting clichés, like ‘dark-horse’ and ‘unsung’, but a lot of all that hinges on Kane Williamson. This is partly sad and partly unjustified.
There is no & was never a doubt about Williamson’s potential, both as a man in charge of an eminent cricketing force and as its best batsman. But just as every knight needs a strong sergeant to lead troops into action from the front, Williamson’s fighting abilities have found support in Martin Guptill for the better part of 3 years now.
Guptill, a redoubtable talent, but not in its best wind
There are two ways in which to judge Martin Guptill’s career. First: from the onset of 2009, in action for 7 straight years, he has compiled nearly 8000 runs from both formats, compiling nearly 50 fifties.
The other: despite having a natural keenness to score runs and play attacking cricket, he’s managed just over 2500 Test runs from 47 Tests and struck just about 14 hundreds from both versions of the game, despite being on ground for 7 years in a row.
Further breaking down Guptill’s statistics unveils a dichotomy
3 hundreds in 47 Tests at a mediocre 29 compared to 11 from 141 ODIs at a handsome average of 42 makes talk of Guptill’s talent rife with uncertainty about his long format potential.
And when you discover that 5 of his 11 ODI tons have come in the last 2 years, powered by some boisterous big hitting in 2015 World Cup while just 1 hundred has come from his 16 previous Tests, you begin to lose your nerve a bit about a batsman whose batting has an enormous power to attract.
While stats can’t be denied nor be dented, you will make light of the Auckland-born lad by dubbing him just an ‘ODI cricketer’. Furthermore, an ODI strike rate touching 90 only confounds the Guptill question.
But is this really a problem?
Truth be told, in the immediate aftermath of his butchering of the West Indies, Martin Guptill was almost the poster-boy of Kiwi cricket. It helped then that a record-breaking 237 was followed up with some blitzkriegs in T20s and ODIs, with the Kiwi sending Pakistan out of the park in his domineering 87 off just 58, recently at Hamilton.
His clinical destruction of England in the Kiwi’s 2015 summer tour saw the antipodean giant strike 3 magnificent fifties in a 5 match ODI series. His 50 off 54, 53 off 66 and 67 off 73 proved his world cup outing and powers as an opening bat weren’t short-lived escapades.
And from there began an unwelcome collapse in form, especially in Tests
Cricket has often presented us with natural stroke-makers and those who stay in the hunt, augmenting tenacity with sheer batting skill. We’ve seen both, the likes of Hayden, Gayle, Sir Viv, Sehwag and then, Dravid, Kallis, Sanga and the likes.
Martin Guptill has always been somewhere in the middle.
In the past 30 Test innings, 16 from 2016 and 14 the year before, Martin Guptill’s bat, a much-feared plunderer in the 50-over format, has yielded a paltry 868 runs with an average somewhere around the 20s!
Guptill’s Test struggles show why the responsibility rests so heavily with Williamson
His recent fighting fifty against Australia in New Zealand should hopefully encourage the batsman in him to perform in Tests.
This year, New Zealand have 7 ODIs and 3 Tests to go before they take on England, Bangladesh and Australia in the Champion’s Trophy games.
This should pose an immense opportunity to Guptill, the explosive ODI batsman, and the one who’s currently struggling in Tests, to bounce back to form. New Zealand were recently in India; a land, truth be told, none find comfortable in locking horns with the current No. 1 Test side.
Out of 6 innings, Guptill floundered in his technique, couldn’t resist playing wide outside off and throwing his wicket away when none expected, managed just 1 fifty. This heightened the struggles of a side, perhaps overly reliant on Williamson, that couldn’t make a 300 run score in any of its Test innings.
The absurdity of his batting failure combined with no shows from the remainder of the team - barring Latham - meant that the Kiwis collapsed under 300 once, under 200 once and even went as far as being dismissed for 153. Would this have been the case had their top order put up some resistance? Are Shami and Kumar as formidable a force in motion as Usain Boult leaping in mid air toward the finishing line? These were just the mental barriers that struck the Kiwi batsman when he found himself challenged.
But for sure, for any handy batsman wanting to go a long distance, it helps to perform in the 5-day contest. In the same way, it helps to give the side a flying start in limited over cricket. He’s got what it takes to be a class act. He’s demonstrated that time and again. Perhaps at 30, these inefficiencies strike as quickly as they can be plucked away casually like a thorn in the foot.
But for now, Martin’s got the age and the form going for him. Hopefully, the batsman in him will rise to the occasion of Test match cricket too. It will do fans a world of good to see him unfettered, once again.
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