11 Mar 2017

Cricket: Who can step up to replace Ross?

9:38 pm on 11 March 2017

By Matt Richens* @mattrichens

OPINION: A calf injury could rule Ross Taylor out of the remaining cricket Tests against South Africa, and Matt Richens writes that there are only three real options to replace him.

Ross Taylor

Ross Taylor Photo: PhotoSport

Ross Taylor has it all as a test batsman - experience, numbers, the ability to bat time, the ability to change pace, respect of the opposition and mana within his own side.

Along with Kane Williamson, he's one of the toughest to replace Black Caps, but he's now injured with a low-grade tear to his right calf, leaving him in doubt for tests two and three against South Africa.

Coach Mike Hesson is rightfully focused on the first test in Dunedin right now, so we thought we'd help out and analyse possible replacements.

Some would instantly call for Martin Guptill to slip into the middle order, after Hesson pointed out that was likely to be his best chance of coming back after he'd proven himself there for Auckland.

His inclusion for tests two and three would have still been a big turnaround for Hesson and co, but he's now unavailable anyway.

That leaves three real options - Dean Brownlie, Colin Munro and Neil Broom.

The drums seems to be beating louder for Munro on the back of more runs for Auckland recently while Brownlie has been kept in and around the squad as batting cover this summer, and has the most "runs on the board" in the test arena of the three.

Broom was thrown an international life-line this summer, which he gratefully grabbed with both hands.

Colin Munro

Colin Munro in action for the ODI side. Photo: Photosport

Colin Munro (30 today) - Tests: 1 Average: 7.50, First-class games: 44, First-class average: 51.85

Numbers are a funny thing. Munro's first-class average is phenomenal, but it doesn't tell the entire story. Nor does his one-test average.

What his first-class numbers do portray is that he dominates at that level. He scores quickly, he often scores big and once he's in, he's tough to get out with a record of 12 fifties and 12 centuries.

What they don't show is the way he scores his runs. He bullies teams and he often does this from very early in his innings.

He's been accused of not assessing the situation well enough and swinging from the hip, regardless of the state of his team and the match. And in first-class cricket on first-class pitches against first-class attacks it can still work.

Against the likes of South Africa on test pitches prepared to do a little bit, Munro's blasé attitude to defence is likely to be seen as a negative by the selectors.

Munro's blazing leads to comparisons to Brendon McCullum, but those comparisons should be to an early McCullum, the one that was regularly maligned for throwing his wicket away or attacking at the wrong time.

McCullum's final years were his best and his numbers were exceptional. An overall test average of 38.64 only told half the story while his average for his final 19 tests of 52.02 shows how strong he finished. Those final games included a triple century, two doubles, a 195 and the record fastest Test century.

But it was all built around defence. McCullum defended well, didn't get out to good balls, so faced more poor balls and scored more. Simple, really. It's a lesson surely Munro is trying to learn from.

Opener Dean Brownlie scored 31.

Dean Brownlie during the recent ODI series. Photo: Photosport

Dean Brownlie (32) - Tests: 14 Average: 29.62, First-class games: 79, First-class average: 40.93

Brownlie is the best back-foot player of the three and, from his time as an opener, arguably has the best defence. His Test average doesn't sell him well, but he's a better player than when he debuted more than five years ago and would put a high price on his wicket.

Neil Broom is back in the Black Caps one day side after a six year absence.

Neil Broom in an appearance for Otago. Photo: Photosport

Neil Broom (33) - Tests: 0, First-class games: 136, First-class average: 39.28

Broom is the best like-for-like swap for Taylor. He has more experience in the middle order, bases his attacking nature around a solid defence, has good game awareness and with 136 first-class games in both New Zealand and the UK under his belt, know best how to bat in all situations.

The selectors are likely to go with Brownlie though Broom would be a solid choice and would not let them down.

But if Munro can't get a guernsey with the numbers he's putting up now, I'd love to know what the selectors are telling him and what more he needs to do.

Because, technique aside, if three hundreds in four Plunket Shield games and a season average of 95.00 isn't enough, what is?

*Matt Richens has been a sports journalist for more than 10 years and once, as a child, bowled Chris Cairns while Cairns was dressed in a Larry the Lamb suit. True Story.

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