8 Mar 2017

Black Caps still lacking allrounder quality

1:22 pm on 8 March 2017

By Matt Richens* @mattrichens

Opinion - The name Chris Cairns seems a profanity in New Zealand cricket at the moment - but what we would give for an allrounder of his quality.

Someone who could genuinely be picked as both a batsman and a bowler on his own merits.

I'm sure it's what coach Mike Hesson must wish for each birthday and Christmas.

The Black Caps congratulate Trent Boult.

The Black Caps have world class players - including Ross Taylor and Trent Boult - but it will take more than them to compete against this South African side. Photo: Photosport

We've got a few in the mix now, but with Corey Anderson still not able to be selected as a bowling option, it looks like the Black Caps' biggest weakness.

Against a homesick Pakistan or an out of their depth Bangladesh, it's easy to overlook the dearth in all rounding quality. In short-form cricket where one or two performances can quickly win a game it's easy to miss, too.

But against South Africa, over three tests, it's where we should be nervous about being found out.

Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner and Trent Boult are all world class but against this South African side it's going to take more than just them to compete.

Through the three-match series, Colin de Grandhomme, James Neesham and Mitchell Santner will need to step up big time.

None of the three are good enough to be in the side as a batsman or a bowler alone, in my opinion.

Santner isn't the best spinner in the country, though is when it comes to the guile, cunning and variation needed on greener tracks. He's getting better in the test form, but needs to continue to improve big time - with bat and ball - if the Black Caps are to foot it with the South Africans.

He clearly has the makings of a Daniel Vettori-esque career, but it's show time for the 25-year-old who has played for New Zealand 59 times (13 tests, 32 ODIs and 14 T20Is) already.

Neesham and de Grandhomme are still keeping Anderson's spot warm for him and need a big series.

De Grandhomme is suited to bowler friendly conditions, but then his block-bash batting is exposed. Neesham is a strong batsmen but when the conditions are good for batting, his bowling is fast enough, but strangely toothless.

If they play, hopefully they will have clear instructions about what is needed from them with the ball while their batting, against a classy Proteas outfit, will be crucial.

Remember when we used to not get too worried about a top order collapse because the middle to lower order would save us. Against Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and co, lower order runs could be the difference between winning, drawing and losing the series.

Hesson and co are obviously trying to develop future high-class allrounders and that needs to be applauded, though there in Anderson's continued absence one wonders if a someone with proven numbers at first-class level, an Andrew Ellis or Todd Astle, might have been considered.

With allrounders, experience is key because it's not a position you can force players into or expect young players to blossom into immediately.

If you push too hard trying to create a 2005 Andrew Flintoff, or a Cairns or Ben Stokes, you end up with a Mitchell Marsh and that's the last thing any of us want for New Zealand.

All that said, I'd love to be proven wrong by the New Zealand all-rounders over the next month and they do have an opportunity cement themselves in the squad.

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*Matt Richens has been a sports journalist for more than 10 years and long-suffering Black Caps fan for more than 30.

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