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March 10, 2010
Being Brendon McCullum's back-up isn't easy but Gareth Hopkins is starting to be viewed as a first-choice instead of a replacement. Hopkins, the wicketkeeper-batsman, has chipped in during each of his four limited-overs appearances against Australia over the past two weeks and has also taken the gloves from McCullum.
Hopkins, who scored 21 and 36 in the Twenty20s, was not in the original one-day squad but he came in when McCullum hurt his back and registered 35 and 45 in the past two ODIs. His only regret is that he hasn't been able to win games for his team.
"I'm quite happy with my performances to a point, but batting at No.7 the goal is to finish the job, and I haven't been doing that," he said. "Although I'm happy with starts, I need to kick on."
However, he thinks his contributions have caught Australia by surprise and he expects them to be paying more attention in Thursday's fourth ODI in Auckland. "They wouldn't have seen me [until now]," he said. "They wouldn't have as strong plans as against other batters, but I'm sure after seeing the last couple of games they will have better plans. It's up to me to either stick to my plan or tweak it a bit to make it better."
Mark Greatbatch, the coach, has been impressed with Hopkins' efforts and said he has "stepped up to the plate". "He's really fronted up," he said. "He's busy, he's improvising, he's playing well. When guys are playing like that they tend to get on the selection sheet."
Hopkins is 33 and has usually had to wait for McCullum to break down, ask for a rest or hand over the gloves. He has appeared in one Test, 16 ODIs and four T20s and wants more.
"The last five years I have been back-up for Brendon, whenever there's a series or tour I've always been ready just in case Brendon gets injured," he said. "When he woke up with a sore back [in Auckland], I just carried on. I've felt comfortable in the team and with the intensity of the international game."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Both batsmen seemingly have buckets of talent at their disposal and the backing of their captains, but soft dismissals relentlessly follow both around the Test arena