Black Cap Test Team Evolution

I believe following the Black Caps is the single greatest sports ride and recently its been good, and this comes down to one thing: consistent selection.

Gone are the days of one-test ‘wonders’ where we scratch our heads and wonder how they even got a chance. The last six years have provided certainty while not allowing players to get complacent.

We’ll have a look through the last 6 years of test selection, under 3 coaches to see how the team has evolved while maintaining a consistent core. Our test team has generally been 2x Openers; 4x Batsman (with one as an all-rounder); 1x WK; and 4x Bowlers.


Openers

Finding good openers has been a constant struggle for the Black Caps, which explains why we persisted so much with McCullum there. Once we realised that McCullum was not an opener (multiple times) and if we can forgive Guptill’s unusually bad record, we found our way to a consistent pair. Guptill is again under intense scrutiny following a bad start to the summer.

The final pair under Greatbatch at the end of 2010 was McIntosh and McCullum. John Wright replaced McIntosh after 1 game (reason: lack of runs and quality — John Wright, a great NZ opener, would know) and shifted Guptill (who Greatbatch had at 6) to open.

Wright persevered with McCullum (who never missed a test in his 101 game career) as an opener before moving him down to 5 and rotated a few players through the other opening spot. He partnered Guptill with Nicol, Flynn and Watling with limited success before losing his job.

Hesson returned McCullum to the top of the order with Guptill . Its important to remember that even up till now McCullum (before he was captain and after he gave up the gloves) was still seen as having great potential but never reaching it, and so it was always a debate as to where he should bat. Hesson shook it up (following the disastrous South African series in McCullum’s first as captain) by shifting McCullum (again wasn’t a successful opener) down the order and dropping Guptill (lack of runs); bringing in Rutherford and Fulton.

Rutherford and Fulton provided some consistency and lasted 12 games (a lifetime of Black Cap tests) over 2013–2014 with some success until they were both eventually dropped and replaced by Latham. Latham is performing really well, with 5 centuries in his first 20 games, and looks set as the Black Caps number 1 opener for years to come. He has been partnered by Fulton (1 game), Rutherford (4 games), McCullum (3 games in Pakistan in order to play another seamer), and Guptill (11 games +).

Latham already has hit the third most centuries as an opener for New Zealand and has the forth highest average (for openers playing more than 10 games).


Batsman

Our middle order has been a strong point for the last six seasons. Two of the four spots have been held by Taylor and Williamson for the duration since the end of 2010 and should be theirs until they retire. Williamson has missed 1 game, while Taylor has missed 5 (a couple through injury and also following the captain switch debacle). On top of that McCullum played 60% of these games in the middle order (once moved there for good), providing some consistency.

The last position has been either Brownlie (early on) or Anderson (if uninjured) or Neesham (as an Anderson clone). Recently, following ODI success, Nicholls (for the retired McCullum) and Santner (as our spinner / allrounder / cover for Anderson) have joined the test team. I don’t see Santner as a true number 6 but more in the mold of Vettori at 8. Nicholls will be given a really good chance at 5, supported by a patient coach and the lack of depth behind him.

The balance of the batsman does change, depending on the needs of the game, sometimes its more of a bowler or whoever is on tour, with limited success: Flynn, Vettori, Watling, Guptill, Ryder, Franklin, Astle, Munro, or Craig.

Taylor and Williamson have played 88% tests together since 2010, and are locked in a race to topple Crowe off the most centuries list — Crowe 17, Taylor 15, Williamson 14.


Wicket Keeper

Greatbatch had Hopkins as his Keeper but Wright brought in Young and then Van Wyk. All were the traditional keeper, not really having a great average but more the gritty battler. Hesson continued with Van Wyk for a few series until handing it over to Watling, who is now the presumptive keeper (unless injured). Watling had played a few games prior (generally as an opener and only one as keeper) but never found his groove until he became the keeper and holding the 7 spot (the last 30 odd games).

Watling has the highest average for NZ as a WK (43.95) and the most 100s (5) and is currently 4th on the list of Wicket Keeping dismissals.


Bowlers

The last six years has seen the Black Caps develop some great bowling depth.

Generally the Black Caps play 3 seamers and 1 spinner though it depends on the composition of the last batsman (as above). Greatbatch’s last team had Vettori, Southee, McKay and C Martin.

Wright dropped McKay and brought in Arnel (briefly) before introducing Bracewell. Wright also brought in Boult and Wagner and with Vettori, C Martin, and Southee, they formed the foundation of our attack. Even back in 2011–2012 we can see the beginnings of our current world class pace bowlers.

Hesson essentially kept these fast bowlers, while introducing Henry (following Bracewell’s disciplinary issues) and went on a search for the spinner. First he preserved with the perennial backup Patel then turning (get it…) to B Martin and introducing Sodhi and Craig, using these three interchangeably and together (before phasing out B Martin). Craig seemed to be the number 1 spinner until last summer’s struggles in Australia and has dropped down the pecking order behind the sudden emergence of Santner who looks so comfortable at such a young age (a la Vettori).

Boult has played every game under Hesson after getting a start under Wright and with Southee (after a few injuries) have played the last 24 tests together, becoming one of the best opening bowling pairs in the world. The third seamer has been either Bracewell, Wagner or Henry since C Martin retired (at the start of 2013).

Boult and Southee have played 64% of tests since 2010.


Consistency and youth

The current squad is full of promising players and with the bulk of the team established and performing, the question turns to the longevity of the squad. Only 3 recent players are 30 years old and over — Taylor, Watling and Wagner while half the squad is under 26.

Latham (age: 24; tests: 20; ave: 41.78; 100s: 5)
Guptill (age: 29; tests: 42; ave: 30.53; 100s: 3)
Williamson (age: 26; tests: 50; ave: 51.29; 100s: 14)
Taylor (age: 32; tests: 71; ave: 48.66; 100s: 15)
Nicholls (age: 24; tests: 4; ave: 18.16; 100s: 0)
Anderson (age: 25; tests: 13; ave: 32.52; 100s: 1; wkts: 16)
Watling (age: 31; tests: 40; ave: 40.03; 100s: 6)
Santner (age: 24; tests: 5; ave: 26; 100s: 0; wkts: 12)
Neesham (age: 25; tests: 9; ave: 38.25; 100s: 2; wkts: 12)

Southee (age: 27; tests: 50; ave: 32.18; wkts: 172)
Boult (age: 27; tests: 41; ave: 28.96; wkts: 153)
Wagner (age: 30; tests: 21; ave: 30.43; wkts: 85)
Henry (age: 24; tests: 4; ave: 63.2; wkts: 10)
Bracewell (age: 25; tests: 25; ave: 38.05; wkts: 69)
Sodhi (age: 23; tests: 13; ave: 46.42; wkts: 35)

The current squad has a few years left in it, though there will be some key players to replace then in Taylor and Watling but the majority of this squad can continue for the next five years.