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Hamish Rutherford, son of Ken, has emerged as New Zealand's new big opening hope
March 8, 2013
Hamish Rutherford does not like comparisons with, or questions about, his father Ken. He wants to forge his own career and his own name. After a magnificent hundred on debut the signs are he will be able to do that, but he had better get used to hearing a few more comparisons over the next few days.
Hamish's debut could not have been a greater contrast to how Ken began his Test career. Facing West Indies, with a bowling attack including Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Michael Holding, a 19-year-old Ken bagged a pair; caught by Haynes off Marshall in the first innings, run out without facing in the second.
In fact, it took him seven innings before he reached double-figures with 65 against Australia in Wellington. That, though, was followed by three more ducks in the next five innings. Ken had to wait until his 14th Test for a maiden hundred, which also came against England when he made 107 at Wellington in 1988, whereas Hamish reached the milestone on just his third day as a Test cricketer.
It was not a faultless innings - dropped on 52 by Stuart Broad in his follow through and 64 by Kevin Pietersen on the first evening - but, like a rare breed of players can, he looked immediately at home in Test cricket. There was a booming drive on 94 and the ball scooted past the outside edge, but two boundaries in three deliveries off Steven Finn, a well-placed late cut then a firm cover drive which is quickly becoming a signature shot, brought up the hundred. He was just the ninth New Zealand batsman to achieve the milestone and in nice symmetry the previous man to do it, Kane Williamson, was at the other end.
'Scoring runs, that's my job'
Having played against Rutherford during the Twenty20s, ODIs and the New Zealand XI match in Queenstown - where he prepared himself for a Test debut with a compact 90 - England had plenty of opportunity to assess what they perceived were vulnerable areas. Like many left-handers he looked prone to giving a catch in the gully (where Pietersen put him down) and there were also questions asked of him against the short ball.
However, when England's bowlers kept the ball full outside off Rutherford kept dispatching it through the off side. When they went for a short-pitched approach Rutherford swayed expertly, did not try the hook and was content to wear the occasional blow. When Monty Panesar tossed the ball up, it was launched down the ground, including two sixes in three balls to move beyond 150. He had problems with his contact lenses during the Queenstown match, but was seeing it like a football now.
This innings was not the first time Rutherford had shone at University Oval. Last season he scored 239, a ground record, against Wellington. For a time it appeared he would beat his own mark. Yet it is quite a remarkable story for a player in his 21st first-class match and who was serving coffee in a Dunedin cafe, facing the end of his professional career, barely more than a year ago.
Now he should well get an extended run to try and fill one of the most troublesome positions in the New Zealand team. Since Mark Richardson retired in 2004 they have struggled to find one stable man never mind a partnership and plenty have been tried. Outside the two openers in this Test, there are 11 batsmen currently playing in New Zealand who have been given the chance to open.
Some, such as Martin Guptill (30 Tests), Tim McIntosh (17 Tests) and Jamie How (19 Tests) have been given a fair run without ever suggesting they really have the quality. Others have just not looked up to the task. Rutherford was not a shoo-in for this Test after Guptill picked up his injury with a domestic summer average of 40.60. Aaron Redmond, whose loss of form last year gave Rutherford his second chance at first-class level, played the last of his seven Tests in November 2008 but has enjoyed a productive first-class season with 941 runs at 55.35 and Michael Papps, who last appeared in late 2007, was also suggested as an option after 810 runs at 45.
Gut-feeling, though, is a key part of selection alongside statistics. Plus a bit of a luck. If Guptill had been fit he would likely have opened with Peter Fulton. New Zealand will have memories of being on the receiving end of a stunning debut by someone not initially in line to play: Andrew Strauss replaced the injured Michael Vaughan, at Lord's, in 2004 and struck a hundred in his first innings. Alastair Cook was also a late replacement when he scored a hundred on debut against India in 2006 and more recently Faf du Plessis registered a century after replacing the injured JP Duminy in Adelaide. Right place, right time.
Various former New Zealand players, notably Sir Richard Hadlee, have questioned the strength of the domestic game to produce Test cricketers so while Rutherford needs to ensure he builds on this fabulous start to have a sustained career it is an important success on many levels. The Rutherford name is, once again, at the heart of New Zealand cricket.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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