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Ronchi ton gives New Zealand selection dilemma

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'My game plan is to get off strike' - Ronchi (1:21)

New Zealand wicketkeeper batsman Luke Ronchi is unsure about his role in the team before the first Test against India in Kanpur (1:21)

New Zealanders 324 for 7 dec (Latham 55, Williamson 50) and 235 (Ronchi 107) drew with Mumbai 464 for 8 dec (Yadav 103, Pawar 100, Lad 100)
Scorecard

In the second innings of their warm-up match against Mumbai, Luke Ronchi and Martin Guptill combined to give the New Zealand team management a selection headache sooner than they would have anticipated. While Guptill followed his first-innings failure with a duck, Ronchi scored a blistering century on a last-day pitch that had begun to misbehave.

It would be a dramatic move if a batsman who has opened only three times in first-class cricket replaced an opener in whom New Zealand have invested, but if there ever was a time and a place to do so, this might be it. Guptill averages 29.59 in Tests, which drops to 20.68 in Asia. He may be sensational in limited-overs cricket, but Tests and spin have not been his best friends. Concurrently, there is no better place than Asia for a non-opener to think about converting. It is often the best time to bat, before the ball begins to turn, reverse swing or gets too soft to travel.

Ronchi got his crack at a top-order spot in the second innings, much like his previous three forays playing for Western Australia before he moved to New Zealand. Mumbai declared immediately after Siddhesh Lad's century - the third of their innings. Then, out walked Ronchi alongside Guptill, the only specialist batsman who did not get a long hit in the first innings. With it being the third day of the game, the flat pitch had dried out and was offering turn and variable bounce, enough for Mumbai to open with the left-arm spin of Vishal Dabholkar.

But Guptill can't blame the pitch for his dismissal. In Dabholkar's first over, the batsman edged a half-volley, seemingly playing inside the line of the ball and giving the slip fielder an easy catch. Ronchi looked in much better control, and displayed more scoring options against spin and the slow nature of the pitch. He swept with authority, drove the quicks with power, found gaps repeatedly and was difficult to pin down at one end for the pressure to build.

"My game plan is to get off strike," Ronchi said after the match. "If the field is in, I go over the top. [A] couple over the top, then a few gaps, and get off strike. That's the way I go about it. If it works, fantastic. Doesn't work all the time, but the best way to bat sometimes is to be at the other end. If you can get yourself off strike, it is a good thing."

Even if New Zealand were to stay conservative and don't open with Ronchi, he might be quite useful in the middle order. Almost all of his 107 runs came in the company of bowlers. The New Zealanders used the final day of the game to give chances to those who didn't get them in the first innings. Guptill and Henry Nicholls were the only specialist batsmen repeated before they had no choice but to send others in. Ronchi put on 23, 64 and 47 runs with Mitchell Santner, Doug Bracewell and Trent Boult respectively. Batting with the tail could prove crucial on raging turners; Ravindra Jadeja frequently gave India the match-tilting runs from around 120 for 6 in the series against South Africa.

Asked if he might have staked a claim for the opening position, Ronchi said: "Maybe, but it's just the position I was given in the second innings - to go out and open. [I] just wanted to sort of have a hit and do as best as I possibly could. If it comes up I certainly won't say no, but you never know what Hess [Mike Hesson] and Kane [Williamson] are thinking. So I will just go about my business and do the best I can for my team whenever given the chance, I guess.

"I have no idea [what role they have in mind for me]. It's up to them. Whatever they say, I will try to do my best. If given a chance, that is. If I am not playing, I am not playing. If I am playing and batting at 11, I am more than happy. Whatever role they ask me to perform, I certainly won't say no."

If New Zealand do want Ronchi in, Nicholls may in danger of going out. He scored 1 in the second innings, but was undone by a ball that jumped out of the rough. If Nicholls does play the first Test in Kanpur, as a middle-order batsman, he would have to face one of the most difficult spin environments without any prior experience. Going into that with 30 runs from two innings would not make him feel good.

This is when just one warm-up match on such a tough tour becomes unfair. A batsman needs time out in the middle to develop the methods and confidence to play spin. As another example, Santner jumped out of the crease to try to get to the pitch of a ball, and was stumped off Lad. He bats in the lower order for New Zealand and his runs could be very crucial. If selected for the Test, and having failed against a part-timer in a practice match, will he have the confidence to run at R Ashwin or Jadeja?

The odd misbehaving delivery aside, New Zealand batted relatively comfortably through the rest of the day. They were bowled out for 235 in the fourth of the mandatory 15 overs in the last hour of play, but Mumbai did not take up the chase of 96 in nine overs.