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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
March 22, 2013
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 ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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