New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Auckland, 1st day March 22, 2013

Fulton's seven-year itch

Peter Fulton's first hundred, seven years after his Test debut, has given him a chance at reviving his career and has also, perhaps, helped New Zealand identify a solid opening pair

New Zealand's biggest area of concern coming into this series was their opening batting positions. Before the first Test, Brendon McCullum admitted it was a "risk" pitching together an unknown combination that consisted of a debutant and a player recalled after a gap of four years with a Test average barely more than 20.

Now they both have hundreds to their name. Hamish Rutherford's came as soon as possible, a brilliant 171 in his first innings, but Peter Fulton's could barely have been more different in its germination. Seven years, to the month, after his Test debut, Fulton pushed the ball wide enough of mid-on to scamper a single having spent a nervous nine balls in the 90s.

His previous highest score had been 75 in his second Test against West Indies, at Wellington, in 2006. A further indication of the length of his time away is that McCullum is the only other member of this New Zealand team to have played in that match.

Fulton admitted there have been times in recent years when he doubted whether this moment would ever arrive. "If I'm being honest, at the start of this season I probably wondered if I'd get another chance to get a Test hundred so I've just tried this whole season to enjoy my cricket," he said. "I clearly still wanted to play but once you've been in and out of the team a few times you get to that stage where you might have had your last chance, but thankfully that wasn't the case."

You might have expected wild, emotional celebrations for someone achieving a milestone that had appeared to have passed him by, but instead there was a reserved removal of his helmet, raise of the bat around the ground and acknowledgement with his partner, Kane Williamson.

"I know I'll be judged on making big scores," he had said during the Wellington Test after falling for a battling 41 during New Zealand's follow-on. A trip to England now beckons in a couple of months and he could well have done enough to keep Martin Guptill on the sidelines when he recovers from the hamstring and thumb injuries which kept him out of this series. If he had contributed only a series of middling scores - such as his 58 and 41 in the first two matches - it would have been a nervous wait for him.

This series marks an up-turn in success for the men going in first for New Zealand. Before this series, since 2000, there had been just 14 hundreds by New Zealand openers. Between 2004 and 2008, there was a four-year period without any. Now they have had two in three weeks.

Both have been terrific stories: Rutherford the fresh-faced debutant, with a strong family connection to the game, and now the seasoned professional who was seemingly consigned to seeing out his career in the first-class arena. Fulton was due to open against South Africa only to sustain a knee injury early in the tour. It would have been easy for him to be overtaken, but McCullum and Mike Hesson were true to their word and gave him first crack at this series.

Fulton, who holds the record for the highest maiden century in New Zealand cricket when he made an unbeaten 301 in 2002-03, averaged 56.37 as the second-highest run-scorer in this year's Plunket Shield so the selectors were picking a player in form.

He is an imposing figure - known as "two-metre Peter" although actually standing at the slightly less snappy 1.98 - which does not bring a natural elegance to his batting. He has looked vulnerable outside off during the series, and twice edged wide deliveries to slip in Wellington, but was tighter here, leaving well during the first session although there was less movement on offer than Alastair Cook expected. Fulton strongly favoured the leg side, scoring 98 of his runs in that direction which also indicates the wrong line, or at least a failure to adjust, from the England bowlers.

His second coming has continued a recent trend in New Zealand of senior players either being recalled or given their first chance under the new regime of Hesson and McCullum. Bruce Martin, 32, has enjoyed a promising start to his Test career in this series after playing a record 115 first-class matches before his debut. Ian Butler, who has been part of the squad after Doug Bracewell's injury, was recalled in the Twenty20 series following a gap of more than two years, although that only seems a fleeting absence compared to Fulton. James Franklin and Grant Elliott are now playing key roles in the one-day side.

Rebuilding a team is not an exact science, but purging all experience in favour of a clean sweep with youth does not often work. It is something Hesson has been committed to since coming into his role. "Ever since I've been here, I've said I value experience. There are a number of guys who have shown they have a lot to offer in the latter half of their careers," Hesson said earlier in the tour.

Hesson has not had much praise since becoming New Zealand coach, but he deserves acknowledgment for the success of the players he has brought in for this series. Fulton's day, one of great personal significance and pride, is also another feather in Hesson's cap.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Geoff on March 22, 2013, 20:05 GMT

    Peter Fulton is one of those players with a lot of talent but "just gets out too often". England had one of those a few years back. He's still in the team. He opens and he's the captain. The point about them is that they have things they can work on. It's not like their whole game is not quite up to it. Peter Fulton knows what he has to work on. I hope he does because he could solve a long-standing problem for NZ.

  • Dummy4 on March 22, 2013, 16:40 GMT

    I'm an Australian fan and I'm seeing the impressive performance of New Zealand in this series as (HOPEFULLY) a lesson for those entrusted with the difficult task of selecting our test XI: blind faith in the policy of selecting young batsmen at all times is an over-simplified approach, which has indeed backfired in India-although I genuinely believe the resurgence of Phil Hughes and solid performances thus far by Steve Smith are a rare highlight of the tour. Here's hoping Fulton gets a double, Williamson and Taylor get cracking later on in day 2 and the English are forced to fight for their lives with the bat.

  • Yogesh on March 22, 2013, 14:13 GMT

    As a US-based supporter of the Indian team, I must say I am delighted that NZ have re-discovered their inner mongrel in this series and have gone toe to toe with a much stronger foe. Having more than one or two strong teams is not only good for local team supporters but good for the sustenance and growth of the game globally. That said, it is a shame that pitches globally have become batsmen's paradises. When will cricket boards realize that spectators enjoy the sight of batsmen reaching and missing, balls swinging or spinning off the wicket and in the air, and the sweet sound of timber when stumps are knocked out by a beauty of a delivery? It gets boring to watch fours and sixes by half-talented batsmen who are aided by dead pitches.

  • josh on March 22, 2013, 13:01 GMT

    He was always touted as the next big thing early on so will be gd to see him get a solid 4-5 yrs in until Latham is ready. With the best opening pair in tests at the helm NZ will look to cash in and dominate the test game.

  • Andrew on March 22, 2013, 9:31 GMT

    I was very critical of BMac's decision to include two new openers at this stage as I also saw it as a big risk. I would have prefered he continued to open at least for this series. On reflection and given the fact that the wickets all over the country have bled shedloads of runs all summer, it was a cracking tactical move ahead of the tour England.

    The second benefit of taking the 'gamble' for this series has been for BMac himself to settle in his ideal spot at 6. Suddenly the top 6 looks very balanced and if Jesse Ryder is ever considered for selection again, someone will be very unlucky to miss out.

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