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September 28, 2012
Martin Guptill is a fine Twenty20 cricketer but he must have been a little surprised to be feted by the British media ahead of New Zealand's Super Eights tie against England on Saturday as a sage of World Twenty20.
But then these are straitened times. Andy Flower, England's coach, has little enthusiasm for airing his views in public even at the best of times and the same went for his predecessor, Duncan Fletcher, who is now even more elusive in his role as coach of India. Neither likes to waste words, especially on journalists.
Stuart Broad fulfils his captaincy duties impressively when it comes to his media obligations, and hints regularly at his disappointment with England's top order, but there is little else to bring daily sustenance to the scribes and if things get much worse the view of a Pallakele gateman could soon be given surprising prominence.
For Guptill to be capable of the power of speech at all was impressive after his part in New Zealand's loss against Sri Lanka in a Super Over at Pallakele the previous night. It was his shot that was caught by Tillakaratne Dilshan at long off, leaving New Zealand needing eight off the final ball. New Zealand players have variously described the blow as short by a few inches or half a metre, but whether they measured it in imperial or metric it was still hard to take.
With both New Zealand and England losing their first matches, the side that is beaten at Pallakele on Saturday could end the night eliminated - although that also depends upon the result of the other match in the group between Sri Lanka and West Indies. England would be favoured by a West Indies win; New Zealand by victory to Sri Lanka.
Guptill was a convenient symbol of what England lack in World Twenty20: a top-order batsman with a proven track record. Instead, England field in their top three Alex Hales, who considering his inexperience is doing all that could be fairly expected of him, and two high-tempo batsman, Craig Kieswetter and Luke Wright, at least one of whom would be better in the middle order.
At 25, Guptill has established excellent T20 stats for New Zealand, averaging more than 30, but he remains largely unsung. There are not many openers at the World Twenty20, for instance, who would have been asked "what did you learn at Derbyshire?" even allowing for the fact that Derbyshire are back in Division One of the County Championship.
As England lost Kieswetter and Wright within the first three balls against West Indies, and their attempts to regroup were initially racked with caution, Guptill was asked, if he found himself at the crease with New Zealand 0 for 2 on a belter, as England had, how much would he reassess or trust his own ability?
"A bit of both," he said. "Losing two early wickets is a major setback. You have to do a bit of rebuilding but you also have to trust your game and back yourself. You have done it many times before and if you get away from your game you're not going to do the team justice. You have to back yourself and play your game that is tried and trusted in the past.
"It's a nice wicket at Pallakele, it allows you to play your shots and hit sixes. But it is always harder to score in the closing overs than up front. You have the field up, a new white ball and it comes off the bat a lot easier. At the end the field is out and the ball is a bit older and softer. We played on a fresh pitch last night which was good with the new ball, it skidded on a bit, and then it started to hold up a bit towards the end."
The temptation for England will be to make a change in the top three. Ravi Bopara is only in the squad because England picked it before they realised how badly his form had collapsed after relationship issues and it would be a bold gamble to turn to him now. Michael Lumb is the other option, but apart from one T20 against South Africa at Edgbaston earlier this month, he has not played for England for more than a year so he would hardly bring much certainty. Quite why Alastair Cook or Ian Bell is not in this squad as an option is beyond belief.
One option that can be discounted is a move up the order for Eoin Morgan; indeed, against West Indies, Morgan, who possesses most of the England hundreds in this top six, dropped down a place to No. 5.
Broad explained the logic. "Morgs' game is suited to finding the boundary when the fielders are back," he said. "It is an amazing skill which not everyone has. He is not overly suited to piercing the infield when the fielders are in so the risk/reward for someone so valuable for our team might be too high for him to play that role.
"If you lose Morgs in that first six overs, and go three down, then you are in big trouble. So it was decided his skills would be best used in those middle overs. He showed how dangerous he could be. We just didn't quite set it up for him. What we want to avoid is what happened against India when he was bowled in the sixth over."
His frustrations with batting life before Morgan appears, though, was evident. "The No 3 has been in in the first couple of overs in every game we've played which is not good enough," he said. "That can really hurt you. Last night you watched the best striker in the world in Chris Gayle: he never goes from ball one does he? He has a little look, assesses the wicket then explodes.
"I think we haven't got that quite right yet but it is important we do. We need to take a bit more responsibility and protect the wickets especially in that first over. Some of the batting decisions in that first over have been pretty poor."
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