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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mark on September 8, 2009, 12:10 GMT

    1. Turner 2. Dempster 3. Sutcliffe 4. M Crowe 5. Donnelly 6. C Cairns 7. Wadsworth 8. R Hadlee 9. Vettori 10. Cowie 11. Bond Dempster, Sutcliffe and Donelly I never saw but their reputations (and averages) have stood the test of time and the favourable comments rank them not as just best of NZ but also rated world class. Wadsworth was a great keeper, a great competitor and a useful batsman, his time cut short by an early death. I thought about Bruce Taylor for Cairns, being a more reliable player with better bowling stats and still a powerful and useful bat. Cowie has great stats ( a better bowling avg than Hadlee) and Bradman's scalp, though limited opportunities in tests. The only weakness in the side is Vettori. Our best but not world class for wicket taking.

  • Raghavendra Rao on September 7, 2009, 14:45 GMT

    My Team: Turner, Sutcliffe, Crowe, John R Reid, Fleming, Parore, R.Hadlee, S. Bond, D.Vettori, Chris Cairns, I. Smith

  • ain on September 7, 2009, 14:07 GMT

    This will be my all time NZ team: 1. GM Turner - NZs most prolific first-class run scorer, 103 first-class centuries. 2. B Sutcliffe - Simply one of NZ's best ever players, and he was best first opening the batting. Held the world record highest first-class score by a left-hander for decades (385). 3. SP Fleming - Makes the team because he's the best captain NZ's ever had. 4. MD Crowe - Best NZ batsman ever. Most test 100s, NZ's highest first class average, NZ's highest test score.....etc 5.JD Ryder young talented left hender with great potantiol 6. CL Cairns - NZ's best batting allrounder 7. BB McCullum will be my wk with great batting talent 8. RJ Hadlee - NZ's best bowling allrounder & NZ's best ever bowler. 9. DL Vettori - Great left arm spinner - outstanding batter too (better than any other NZ spin bowler 10. SE Bond - NZ's most effective and controlled bowler of those who could bowl upward of 150 km/h. 11. DL Morrison another fastman.

  • Peter on September 6, 2009, 18:48 GMT

    I have so much to say about these comments so far, especially about keepers, but since we've just started an all time eleven startin with openers I'll start with openers.

    1 Glenn Turner - automatic number 1. 100 first class centuries, you need not say more. 2. John Wright - inches before Mark Richardson. John played during the era of the West Indies, was able to play well in both tests and ODI's and was also captain at times and has gone on to be one of the worlds most respected coaches. He obviously has a great brain for the game, can adapt and tough it out. He was crucial to NZ's most successful era. Mark richardsons career was quite short aswel, so that counted against him.

  • Regan on September 6, 2009, 10:37 GMT

    I tend to agree with alot of what those above have said; however, I think that perhaps I would pick one less bowler than most. Anyway here is my team:

    1.Glenn Turner, 2. Stewie Dempster, 3. Andrew Jones, 4. Martin Crowe, 5. Stephen Flemming (Capt.), 6. Burt Sutcliffe, 7. A Parore, 8. Chris Cairns, 9. Richard Hadlee, 10. Daniel Vettori, 11. Shane Bond.

    I think that most of these players pick themselves in an alltime team. Though I am sure that many would disagree with my final XI. :-)

  • Muhammad on September 4, 2009, 13:04 GMT

    1. John Wright , 2. Glenn Turner , 3. Stefen Fleming (C) , 4. Martin Crowe , 5. Bert Sutcliffe , 6. Chris Cairns, 7. Ian Smith , 8. Richard Hadlee, 9. Dan Vettori , 10. Shane Bond, 11. Danny Morrison

  • Mark on September 4, 2009, 6:43 GMT

    jkc502: you are a shrewd judge. Each of these selections seems to me justified in terms of historical significance, calibre, impact, reputation and achievement - though, arguably, with respect to the last of these criteria, Donnelly and Bond have had a somewhat limited international career. Moreover, I would agree with the reasons you give. Until recently, I had Dempster at 3, but Fleming's durability and captaincy warrant preference. Prior to 2000 I also had John Ried at 6, and Taylor as yet another effective pace bowler who could bat - but now Bond along with Cowie deserves to be considered as historically the best of the pace bowlers other than Hadlee.

  • Simon on September 3, 2009, 12:04 GMT

    jkc502 - your team is practically the same as mine, but just can't decide whether John R Reid should be in there instead of Chris Cairns, or maybe Donnelly. Fleming is in there because of all NZ batsmen who have batted at no. 3 he has the 2nd best average - John F Reid has best average but I think Fleming's the better batsmen plus had captaincy burden.

  • Paul on September 3, 2009, 11:38 GMT

    This blog was supposed to be about openers, but that seems to have blown to the four winds. There are 5 players that, for mine, should be guaranteed a spot in the Kiwi team of all time: Sir RJ Hadlee. MD Crowe. DL Vettori. SE Bond. And AC Parore.

  • Tim on September 3, 2009, 8:06 GMT

    J.Wright, G.Turner, M.Crowe, S.Flemming (c), John Reid, A.Jones, I.Smith, R.Hadlee,C.Cairns,D.Vettori, L.Cairns

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