Guptill must be allowed to play his ‘natural game’ if NZ are to derive the most from his unique talents

The techniques of David Warner and Martin Guptill shared one startling similarity in the recently completed ODI series between the two old foes: they both strike the ball with immense force that is only rivaled by the world’s finest. Of course, to this day, one has gone on to establish himself as a respected, level-headed and widely lauded test batsman while the other has always been a thereabouts test cricketer and an indelible flame with a penchant for delivering whirlwind performances in the shorter formats. The latter settles into his innings by playing with a textbook straight bat to deliveries pitched on a good length. His large stride ensures he makes contact with the ball under his eyes allowing him to time the ball and pierce the gaps with surgeon-like precision. He is a picture of balance and concentration, both in his stance and when executing a shot, that should serve as an unblemished template for the younger cricketers who are looking to replicate a flawless technique. You read this and expect Guptill to be the ideal test match opener for New Zealand and a giant of the modern game, but he averages a miserly 29.38 in more games than you can poke a stick at and has recently been dethroned by a younger, more conservative batsman who has shown plenty of signs in the early stages of his career that he won’t be giving up his position without a say.

David Warner was once the gung-ho merchant who wouldn’t make the grade as a test match batsman due to his reckless temperament and flawed defence. Since then, he has gone on to become one of Australia’s finest test openers and has held his position at the head of the Australian batting order for five years. Every adversity and roadblock that has been thrown in his direction to put the brakes on a steadily growing career – from the infamous bar punch thrown at England’s Joe Root to homework gate on the Indian tour of 2013 – has allowed him to blossom into the 57 match test player that we see today making hundred after hundred with a technique pulled from the heavens. Despite popular belief, his defence is paramount to his game and is what keeps that average of 48.08 continuing in an upward trend. His expansive stroke play, which earns him all the plaudits, is there to compliment his resolute defence and push along the rate when the game situation requires it. He has acquired the perfect balance between aggression and conservatism which has laid the foundation for his transition to test cricket and his subsequent success.

Warner and Guptill, while differing in terms of personal idiosyncrasies that set their techniques apart, both posses the unique ability to hit the ball like a tracer bullet to the boundary with scant regard for where it may have pitched. One has been able to convert the form they found in the white ball formats as a fresh faced Big Bash sensation into sustained success at test level, while the other has barely been able to keep their head above water. Sure, Guptill has played most of his test match career on green seaming wickets at the Basin Reserve and Seddon Park – two venues that aren’t regularly associated with the word’s ‘batsmen’s paradise’ – but excuses needn’t be made when you see the damage he can inflict on an opposition with the coloured clothing on his back. Remember the 2015 World Cup, that score of 237 at the Cake Tin and the brutal manner in which he went about dispatching the Windies to all parts of the ground (and out of it) with an apparent disregard for losing his wicket? The cleanness with which he hit those boundaries was the coup de grace that ended the West Indies campaign and was very much on show in every innings he played during the Chappel Hadlee series. But, like a werewolf at midnight, the sight of the red ball transforms Guptill into a form that is almost unidentifiable against the standards he sets in one-day and t20 cricket.

The celebration following ‘that’ knock against the WI in 2015. Photo: The Telegraph.

The idea that slips into one’s mind when they witness the differences between the Guptill playing the shorter form and the less popular Martin who plays test cricket, is that he seeks to conform to the mindset held by traditional opening batsmen. Bat the entire first session, edge a couple that evade the slips but garner a boundary, and get through the new ball to give your middle order batsmen the greatest opportunity to mount a significant total. The cliches go on, but this is simply not the criteria New Zealand cricket should use to assess Guptill, and it is certainly not the ideas he should be fed as gospel if they wish to get the most out of his boundary hitting ability. When Warner came to the conclusion that his role within the side was to play his strokes from the outset, without fear for the outcomes this may produce and the judgement he may receive from time to time, there were marked improvements in his game. Untill New Zealand adopt a similar mantra for Martin Guptill, he will remain an underutalised quantity who has little impact on the game. He must be given a license to play with the freedom Australia afforded David Warner after they realised the traditional ‘knicker and nudger’ role, exemplified best by messrs Rogers and Cook, wasn’t suited to his enigmatic style of play. New Zealand has an experienced middle order that can cope with the loss of an early wicket and are capable of building an innings around the more conservative and pure stroke makers like Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. It’s a risk they must take if they are to utalise the unteachable talent they have at their disposal in the form of Marin Guptill. He’s a game-breaker worth far more to a national team than any highfalutin IPL contract might hope to put a price on.

Australia v New Zealand Second ODI – Redemption complete

That’s it, redemption complete. Australia have erased the scars inflicted on them by South Africa in both the ODI and test match formats with two wins over the boys from across the ditch. It’s remarkable how quickly the negative rhetoric that was sprawled across the internet two weeks ago can be extinguished by back-to-back wins in a meaningless series attended by just over 30,000 people. But Australia are deserving of every accolade that is thrown there way no matter the source from which they may originate.

We have been treated to some entertaining one-day cricket, which is difficult to say considering that two weeks ago I was apart of the camp who were strong advocates for a series boycotting due to its lack of context. My thinking was that a lull in the middle of the summer, following a monumental test series against South Africa, wasn’t the best way to capture an audience, nor the best course of action to ensure they are invested in the three match test series against Pakistan; a far more important contest given Australia’s recent test match struggles. It seemed a logical choice, although a less profitable one for CA, that the Australian players be given time over this period to return to Shield cricket where they could play against the pink ball and prepare in an environment similar to what they will be faced with in a week’s time. After all, what good could come from a three match ODI series after a two-one drubbing in the test series. It’s certainly not the format you want to be experimenting with six days out from the first test. How does CA expect its players to be prepared in such a short space of time?

The two one-day fixtures played out at the SCG and Canberra – while not decade defining matches – have caused a total reversal in my thinking and has allowed Australia to sustain the winning feeling they established in Adelaide after six long and unprosperous months at home and abroad. It’s also a breath of fresh air for the fans, and players no doubt, who have had to endure a mentally demanding test series that appeared to take three months, rather than three weeks, to complete. If that’s not enough, there’s the added benefit of batsman, such as Mitchell Marsh, playing themselves into white-ball form. While this is not directly translatable into the test match arena, the freedom of both technique and mind that one is given the license to play with during a one-day match enables batsmen to take stock of their game and express themselves in the longer form. A few of our batsmen were in desperate need of this following the negative press they received in the aftermath of the massacre in Hobart. What this means for the mindset of the players going forward remains to be seen. It’s not the first time a one-day series has been shoved into the middle of a team-defining summer of cricket, and it won’t be the last. It’s as much a refresher as it is the cause of career crippling burn-out. The mental willpower of the players will decide which comes to fruition.

Now, onto the second ODI. Australia can gleefully add yet another Chappell-Hadlee trophy to their tally and laugh in the face of the kiwis who, despite giving it a red hot crack, couldn’t hold on to win in either game after a dominant display of top order batting. There is an enormous gulf between the standard of middle to late order hitting in the Australian and New Zealand batting orders and this, so far, has been the difference between the two sides. As soon as Australia surpassed 300 in both encounters, NZ’s hopes were as good as dead and buried. They are a side who have positioned all their guns (Guptill, Williamson and Nesham) at the top. So far, nobody below them has been able to stick around in support to see them through to a big hundred. This is essential in a chase. You’re not going to track down a close to record breaking target without a lower order that is capable of chipping in with at least 100 runs. In both games, the two shining lights for New Zealand – Guptil (game one) and Williamson (game two) – have been dismissed playing a stroke with the intention of clearing the boundary. They were well aware that they were drifting behind the required rate and the batsmen that were to come didn’t posses the striking ability to play catch up. The set batsmen had to stay in and battle. They didn’t. The lower order needed to produce a counter-attacking flurry of runs. They couldn’t manage that either.

Australia have done just about everything right so far. They’ve batted sensibly and have put the foot on the accelerator at the correct time in both innings to see themselves past the psychological milestone of 300. They have Warner and Smith to thank for this. Both batsmen have set the foundations nicely for a late over assault on the tiring New Zealand bowlers and have enabled the Australian side to go into the final 15 overs with wickets in hand – an underrated luxury in the modern game. They are outsmarting New Zealand in every facet of the game at the moment. They haven’t shown enough re-activeness, nor creativeness, in the field to prevent big first innings scores on batting friendly pitches, and they certainly haven’t attacked Australia’s top order inside the first ten overs with the new ball in a way that exploits their recent difficulties. When they’ve batted, they have let Australia dictate terms to them and have left it too little to late to attack with a fragile and unestablished middle and lower order.

Having said that, they’ve shown glimpses of what they’re capable of achieving in the one-day format, particularly with the likes of Guptill and Williamson steering the ship. New Zealand’s other top and middle order weapons, for which they rely on to score the majority of the runs, haven’t fired yet. Latham hasn’t got a significant score in a number of innings while Neesham and Munro are producing starts without going on to achieve a game changing milestone. They are being outfoxed by a team who know their own game back to front on home soil, as New Zealand did twelve to eighteen months ago. The changing of the guard from the 2015 CWC has been particularly damaging to their batting and it appears as if they are a work in progress yet to figure out the ideal balance between attack and defence.

Martin Guptill Card.jpg
Martin Guptill at the top of his game, will he produce the same heroics at the MCG……

In more bad news for the touring side, Australia’s bowlers haven’t been at their clinical best yet. In fact, they’ve been picked off far too easily by the likes of Guptill, who is striking at near breakneck speeds, and Williamson, who has been allowed to rotate the strike in a fashion that suits him. The percentage of boundaries hit square of the wicket would be alarming for the Australian bowling cartel and a sign that they have erred in length far too often. Take a look at the wagon wheels for both Guptill and Williamson, couple them with their strike rates, and the shortness with which the Australian’s have bowled becomes apparent.

You can view them on ESPNcricinfo:

Cummins was the biggest culprit in the opening game, while Starc was guilty of the very same thing during the opening overs in Canberra. Bowling short with the new hard ball to two batsmen who strike powerfully square of the wicket is the quickest and easiest way for the scoreboard to get out of hand and for the fielders to be pushed back into defensive sweeping positions that dramatically reduce the chance of a wicket taking delivery outside of a miss-hit – which is almost an exact description of the fashion in which Guptill and Williamson were sent packing in game one and two respectively.

If the Australian bowling line-up looks a little underdone, than what tag can we give to the New Zealand attack who have already conceded 702 runs in two innings and taken just 13 wickets to go along with it. There is a perceived lack of depth in the New Zealand ranks and the Australian batsmen have picked up on it. They’ve played Henry and Boult with due caution and attacked the change bowlers to spread the field, allowing them to pick up singles and keep the score chugging along during periods where the opposition would normally be looking to stymie the rate. Travis Head is a perfect example of this approach. Promoted up the order to protect the lower order hitters and keep the run-rate ticking over through the middle overs, he manipulated the field, picking off singles before eventually going after de Grandhomme and Southee to settle for a run a ball 57. It was he and captain Steve Smith who allowed Marsh to come out swinging and propel Australia to their eventual total. The New Zealand bowlers looked a defeated unit when the seventh Marsh six went sailing into the stands, and from that moment forward the ball was in Australia’s court. This is an area that New Zealand must improve if their method is going to last on batting friendly pitches against an opposition who has a well constructed plan. If their bowling is incapable of adaption, and they revert quickly to defensive field placings, they will find themselves on the receiving end of 350+ scores all too often.

So, onto Melbourne then for the final game in this brief Chappell-Hadlee series. You would be forgiven for looking past this dead-rubber and towards the first test against Pakistan at the GABBA next Thursday, but I implore you to stay tuned. This might well be the game we see a record breaking score from one of the Australian batsmen. I’m not writing off New Zealand, I just think that they are a defeated team who are showing signs of weakness in a number of different areas. Perhaps they already have one eye firmly fixed on their upcoming home series against Bangladesh which is an intriguing contest in itself. How will Bangladesh fare on the green seamers dished up in New Zealand? They haven’t been exposed to anything like what they are about to experience for, well, years. Given their lack of swing bowlers, it’s difficult to see them winning a single game on tour. But that’s an argument for another day.