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If there was one question in recent years that has been asked more than any other in New Zealand One-Day International cricket it would have to be, "How does Craig Spearman keep his place in the Black Caps?"
The answer has been confined to the New Zealand cricket selection panel.
Glenn Turner first picked Spearman to international duty in 1995/96 as one of his choices to implement the blazing top order assaults Turner wanted.
Going into yesterday's ODI with Zimbabwe in Harare, Spearman with an average of 17.41 after 44 matches had seen off Turner and Ross Dykes as selection conveners and had won over the new man Sir Richard Hadlee.
This despite the fact that his best score was 78 scored against the United Arab Emirates in the 1996 World Cup. He twice scored 68, in the 1996 World Cup against the Netherlands and against India at Rajkot last summer.
He was overdue, well overdue.
However, New Zealand cricket is still overdue for some fire at the top of the order.
It is amazing that since the days when Turner and Bruce Edgar were paired in the mid-1980s and John Wright and Edgar shared the duties before that, New Zealand has not enjoyed a consistently successful opening pair.
There were some heady days at the 1992 World Cup when Mark Greatbatch and Rod Latham were paired but they were fleeting.
What makes the opening question all the more frustrating is that another of Turner's selections, Nathan Astle has blossomed as a one-day opener. He's scored eight ODI centuries and has had five scores in the 90s.
He is New Zealand's most successful one-day batsman even if he has yet to claim the overall run scoring aggregate from Martin Crowe.
Ironically, Spearman produced his highest score yesterday with 86 against Zimbabwe when he was originally named as a lower middle-order player. He only moved to No 3 when skipper Stephen Fleming was laid low with a stomach complaint.
It is one of the indictments of New Zealand's one-day play that only 14 centuries have been scored by openers, eight of them by Astle and three by Turner. Wright, Edgar and Crowe have scored the others.
While Spearman lifted the monkey from his back, the problem at the top of the order still exists for New Zealand. Wicketkeeper Chris Nevin has a great opportunity to make his mark as a partner for Astle.
With such a concentration of limited overs cricket at the start of the season, it would be helpful to New Zealand's future, and its build-up to the next World Cup, if Nevin could solidify the opening berth and if Spearman could reap a harvest of consistency in the middle-order.
Few batsmen hit the ball harder with so little effort than Spearman. He is capable of taking good attacks apart.
If New Zealand could rely on a top order assault from Astle, Nevin and Spearman, what fireworks there could be.
Zimbabwe was just a start for Spearman. He has had generous selectorial support. It is dividend time for New Zealand.
A final thought on the Zimbabwe match.
Zimbabwe was always going to struggle after the loss of Neil Johnson and Murray Goodwin.
But New Zealand went into the game without Chris Cairns, Dion Nash and Geoff Allott who were all injured and Fleming couldn't bat due to illness.
Daryl Tuffey and Glen Sulzberger made their ODI debuts. They have both been part of New Zealand's coherent development policy. It is but one step but some depth is finally starting to emerge.
|Arshad Laeeq||run out||14||36|
|JA Samarasekera||not out||47||59|
|Imtiaz Abbasi||not out||2||6|
|Extras||(lb 2, nb 2, w 3)|
|Total||167(9 wkts; 47 ovs)|
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