Openers September 1, 2009

Opening the debate

The toughie, the perfectionist, the artist, and the honest triers. Which two are your picks?

We have done our job. We have picked the selectors: 10 men who have either played, administered, chronicled, or otherwise written about, the game in New Zealand - or in some cases done all of the above. Former selectors, veteran writers and commentators, and a few current ones, will ensure balance in the effort to select the best XI that could represent New Zealand in a Test match.

From Ted Badcock to Martin Guptill, 243 men have represented New Zealand in Tests, which makes the task easier than selecting, say, an England XI (645 Test caps) or Australia XI (411). But it's strictly only relatively easier: pruning it to a shortlist of 30-odd has been hard enough. Then, does Bert Sutcliffe qualify as an opener or in the middle order? Do we put John R Reid in the middle-order category or in the allrounders? Where does Richard Hadlee qualify? There are disagreements going on as we speak; there will be more as these shortlists and the final XI are revealed.

So let the debates begin, in the openers' category to begin with. How to pit a legend who played just 10 Tests against someone who played 82 and had numbers to show for it is as fine a debate as any. The opening slots may not be big enough for both Stewie Dempster and John Wright: Glenn Turner and Sutcliffe are two of the other candidates. Where do Graham Dowling and Bruce Edgar stand? What does Mark Richardson's bloody-mindedness at the top count for? His average of 44.71 is the third-best among New Zealanders who scored at least 1000 Test runs. But this can't be a selection based on pure stats or number of matches won; this calls for more of a value judgment.

Sutcliffe, who played both as an opener and in the middle order, makes it an extremely tough decision to make. As an opener he has the record to challenge the finest of them, but by virtue of being able to bat in the middle order he provides options. This choice will determine whether we get an extra player from this category into the XI, or from the middle order, which is for another day.

The contenders

Stewie Dempster New Zealand's first centurion and first world-class batsman. When Wisden named him a Cricketer of the Year in 1932, it said he was the best batsman New Zealand had produced. Dempster played only 10 Tests, averaging 65.72, and twice scored three centuries in three innings for Leicestershire.

Graham Dowling Described by Dick Brittenden as a "watchful, sound, often elegant batsman, a precise cutter, strong on the pull, a fluent driver through the covers". A superb fielder and leader by example, he scored 239 in his first game as captain, leading New Zealand to their first win over India, and averaged 31.16 over 31 Tests, with three centuries.

Glenn Turner New Zealand's first real professional, Turner brought a professional's perfectionism to his batting. Among the best batsman of his era, he was not ashamed of his ambitiousness either. Starting as a one-dimensional defensive batsman, he reinvented himself so he could play any shot on demand and score as fast as any of his contemporaries.

John Wright His sound opening capabilities were critical to the most successful New Zealand side - the one of the eighties. Wright scored centuries against all six opponents available at the time, and became the first man from his country to make over 4000 Test runs.

Bruce Edgar He played the fastest of bowlers straight and with assurance, and formed a solid all-lefty association with Wright - against, among others, the West Indies pace quartet and Lillee, Thomson and Alderman.

Mark Richardson Never mind his sprinting in the Revolting Lycra Suit, the SLA-turned-opener brought all the seriousness and dourness an opening batsman needed to survive for hours against challenging bowling. Richardson faced on average 194 balls per Test, the most among all New Zealanders.

Bert Sutcliffe Dashing and correct, Sutcliffe was one of New Zealand's best batsmen ever. His affable personality made him hugely popular. Rivalled only by Neil Harvey, Sutcliffe was the finest left-hand batsman of his era. He scored four of his centuries while opening, averaging 45.20.

We'll be publishing an all-time New Zealand XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To vote for your top New Zealand openers click here

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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