Middle order September 7, 2009

Multi-faceted dilemmas

The middle order is where the real competition is at, with 10 men fighting for the spots

The easy, and at the same time difficult, part of choosing a New Zealand all-time XI is the flexible roles their cricketers could generally play. Two of the nominees in this category who have strong chances of making it to the final XI, Bert Sutcliffe and John R Reid, can qualify elsewhere in the order too. Sutcliffe can open, Reid can be the allrounder; but they can just as well bat in the middle order and no one will complain.

So the middle-order selection can't be made keeping just the middle order in mind; the prospective openers and allrounders need to be considered too. There's a fine line between creating space and eating it.

Not that just these two make up the middle-order debate. Scroll down a little, and you have the two Martins, Crowe and Donnelly. One man a tortured genius who many bowlers of his era found the toughest to bowl to, the other believed to be so good that numbers (he played just seven Tests) are considered immaterial. New Zealanders didn't get to see much of Donnelly, but John F Reid wrote of him, "If we were in trouble, no one was more likely to pull the game round than Martin. If we were on top, few could demolish bowling so swiftly or surely as he did." What if it came down to picking just one of the Martins?

Between those two came Bev Congdon and John F Reid. After Crowe, two men made a strong case for themselves: the brave and persistent Andrew Jones, and the silken Stephen Fleming. And if the added bonus of captaincy was to tip the scales - although we are not nominating captains in this exercise - this is the category: any one of John R Reid, Fleming and Congdon could benefit from his captaincy credentials.

The contenders

John R Reid An allrounders' allrounder, he was a dashing batsman not afraid of hitting in the air, a bowler useful enough to take 466 first-class wickets at 22.6, an exceptional fielder at gully and cover, and good enough to captain the likes of Garry Sobers, Wes Hall, Wally Grout, Eddie Barlow and the Nawab of Pataudi in a World XI. Reid led New Zealand to their first three Test wins.

Bert Sutcliffe "Runs came to him as if by right… I cannot recall him playing an uncouth shot," wrote Reid of Sutcliffe. His most memorable innings, a "story every New Zealand boy should learn at his mother's knee" came in the middle order.

John F Reid Though fated to be the second-best John Reid in cricket, he averaged the most among New Zealanders who managed more than 1000 Test runs. Calm and orthodox, he scored six hundreds in the eight times he went past 50 in Tests.

Martin Donnelly His cricket a victim of war and the game's financial circumstance, Donnelly played just 13 of his 131 first-class matches at home. The slightly unorthodox thumper to Sutcliffe's artist, he did enough in seven Tests to make the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. There is not a New Zealander who doesn't feel a sense of loss that he couldn't play more, and in the country.

Bev Congdon A fine all-round professional, he was a technically correct batsman, a safe fielder, a useful medium-pace bowler, and thrived when captain. Congdon led New Zealand to their first win over Australia, almost beat England for the first time on his own, and introduced a hard edge to their cricket.

Martin Crowe Had all the shots in the book - and the time to play them. Was labelled the best young batsman in the world when he made his debut at 19, and was one of the best in the world during the following years. Wasim Akram, one of the greatest bowlers of that era, rated him in the same bracket as Sunil Gavaskar and Brian Lara - and higher when it came to playing reverse swing.

Andrew Jones Crowe's sidekick, Jones had to wait until he was 28 for his Test debut, but he didn't let the cap go once it came his away. Not one for purists, he had a technique of his own, but his determination and ruthlessness stood out - as an average of 44.27 over 39 Tests testifies.

Stephen Fleming New Zealand's leading run-getter, most successful captain, and their most capped player. Numbers could say only so much about Fleming, though. His graceful batting brought joy, and also the feeling that he undershot as a batsman.

Nathan Astle His free spirit at times proved his downfall. An automatic selection if this were an ODI team, on his day he was as destructive a batsman as any. Astle holds the record for the fastest double-century in Tests.

Craig McMillan Abrasiveness, aggressiveness, improvisation and a relish for the difficult situation were McMillan's key features, suggesting there was more than his resemblance with Russell Crowe to his being nicknamed The Gladiator.

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 middle-order batsmen click here

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Muhammad on September 9, 2009, 5:10 GMT

    Although middle order doesn't seem to have been sufficient ever for New Zealand but when we are talking of All Time NZ XI, we could expect that two openers plus three middle order batsmen could be sufficient. after that we could move to All rounders, Wicket Keeper and then the bowlers. In the test you have to have 5 genuine bowlers, so inclusion of Hadlee and Vettori would enhance the batting as well, plus a wicket keeper batsman, that would make a pretty nice batting strength.

  • B. on September 9, 2009, 4:57 GMT

    Also re: NZ averages: a partial reason these seem low is that promising NZ batsmen tend to get picked very early. This happens in several countries but it's been worst in NZ (well, aside from Bangladesh) because of the small first class player base. Thus Martin Crowe gets thrown to the lions at 19; it takes him two years to score his first 50. Teenager Ken Rutherford is picked to face Marshall, Garner and Holding; it takes seven years for him to recover sufficiently to push his average over 20. You're even seeing it now with Vettori.

    Of course, another reason NZ averages seem low is because we're not that good.

  • B. on September 9, 2009, 4:40 GMT

    Where the supporting evidence for Dempster's greatness is strong, the supporting evidence for Donnelly's greatness is iffy. His record before the war is good but not overwhelming. A couple of his centuries for Oxford came against opposition of questionable strength (Cambridge, Free Foresters). His stint for Warwickshire was barren. It was only in 1949 that he had unquestionably become a world-class batsman, and then he promptly called it quits and mozed to Oz.

    Still, at least Donnelly *might* have been a great batsman, which is more than anyone else on the list except for Crowe and Sutcliffe can claim. JR Reid was a great all-rounder, but not a great batsman. Fleming was a great captain, but not a great batsman, and I can't include a guy who only scored a century every 12 Tests, no matter how tactically astute he was. JF Reid had a fine record in a bowlers' era, except he managed to avoid the great bowlers more often than not. 1. Turner 2. Sutcliffe 3. Dempster 4. Crowe 5. Donnelly.

  • Simon on September 9, 2009, 0:27 GMT

    NZ definitely can afford to go in with 5 batsmen, considering that at no. 6 I would opt for John R Reid - NZ's best batsman at certain stages in his career - and plenty of batting depth at nos 7-8-9 with Richard Hadlee, Daniel Vettori (world's best average for a no. 8 batsman), and Ian Smith (world record highest score batting at no. 9)

  • shafeen on September 8, 2009, 14:52 GMT

    I'll have more to say on this when the final 11 is announced. But frankly, this desire to have 5 specialist batsmen in EVERY TEAM we've seen so far... is absurd. Australia can afford it, England can with difficulty (I did not agree with the choice of the lower order, which has to be strong in batting when the team has just 5 specialist batsmen).... but New Zealand most definitely CAN NOT afford to go in with less than six batsmen.

  • Mike on September 8, 2009, 11:55 GMT

    The opening comments on cricketers qualifying in different fields highlight what's been, to me, an obvious difficulty of the shortlisting system - namely its inflexibility. Why can't we balance our sides to our own satisfaction?

    I'd like to see shortlists simply of batsmen, bowlers and wicketkeepers, from which readers could have the choice of picking 6-4-1 or 5-5-1 as they wish. Allrounders could figure in the list of their stronger skill, or even in both with the obvious proviso that you couldn't pick them twice!

    And why can't we - or the official selectors - pick a captain? Isn't good captaincy as vital to a well-balanced side as any other playing skill?

    It's still been really interesting and a lot of fun though!

    Specifically to this list, Sutcliffe should surely be listed as an opener where he played most of his best cricket.

  • Paul on September 8, 2009, 11:50 GMT

    ChairmanValvod, I'm not sure what your point is. There are 4 and bit million people in New Zealand. About the same population as Queensland. Queensland produced Matt Hayden, Ian Healy, Don Tallon, Craig McDermott; two of whom are world class, and two who arguably were. New Zealand has punched well, well above it's weight in world cricket since day one, given it's small population and remote location. There are other cricketing countries who have been quite, quite the obverse.

  • abdul on September 8, 2009, 7:41 GMT

    i wonder if No. 7 spot is for a batsman or it may be wicketkeeper. I've not seen a batsman like vetorri at this spot. he anyways qualfies as bowler if not a lower order batsman. In middle order Martin Crow is my choice, Stephen flemeng are the best I guess.

  • Nigel on September 8, 2009, 6:29 GMT

    Reading through the comments I agree that apart from Crowe, Sutcliffe, Donnelly the rest are not really world class (I would have J R Reid as an allrounder). They are good players but not great. This highlights the problem that NZ cricket has faced througout it's history the lack of world class batsman. The 2 periods of history where NZ had a good record in test cricket (mid 1980's and late 1990's) were based around 2 world class all rounders (Hadlee and Cairns) being at the peak of their powers. The easiest way to see the lack of batting depth is to look at the averages, no one (Donnelly's short career apart) averages over 50! How many of these batsman would have made the short list for Australia or England! Maybe Crowe but that would be about it. Sad but true and it is the reason that NZ cricket continues to languish towards the bottom of the test rankings.

  • Rama on September 8, 2009, 1:25 GMT

    I remember JR Reid, listening to cricket commentry those days 'Benaud to Reid, full toss, Reid hits for a Six, Durani to Reid , full toss reid hits a huge six" this is how it used to be, a full toss will always land up in the galary. He missed T20!!!!!!! Ramaprasad, Tiruchi India

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