Cricket: The Black Caps’ looming issue – We need to talk about Martin Guptill

OPINION:

You don’t want to pick on one bad performance in a strong Black Caps victory but here we go – because it’s hard to ignore the looming issue Gary Stead has at the top of the Black Caps batting order.

Martin Guptill’s three-ball duck was his first in 69 T20 internationals but the nice avoidance of a zero next to his name doesn’t exactly tell the story of his current form slump.

The old adage is you don’t change a winning side but Stead must be tempted to make a significant move for the second T20 in Dunedin.

Guptill passed a fitness test to make the squad for the five match series with young Super Smash standout Finn Allen placed on the ‘not so fast sonny’ list.

The 34-year-old Guptill is one of New Zealand’s greatest white ball batsmen and has certainly earned the extra time to find his form again following a prolonged slump and then injury at the domestic level. But with the huge amount of talent nipping at his heels, it might be time to consider a change now.

Guptill has been a great performer for the Black Caps across all forms since marking his ODI debut in 2009 with a century at Eden Park. I always felt he deserved a few more chances in the middle order at test level while he has been a large part of the side’s white ball success over the last decade. His 237 in a knockout World Cup game is, without doubt, the greatest ODI innings by a Black Cap considering the occassion.

He’s certainly got the respect, and has certainly earned it, of the Australians – something the Aussies don’t give away lightly.

“He’s someone we’re doing a lot of planning for, a lot of preparation,” Aussie skipper Aaron Finch said before the series. “You never take anyone with his quality and skill lightly.”

It seems though we may have seen the best of Guptill and it’s appeared that way for a couple of years now.

He battled through an unfortunate form slump at the World Cup in 2019 and looked to be coming out the end of it last summer with consecutive fifties in wins over the touring Indian side. One of those knocks, he was well on his way to his 17th ODI ton last February when Ross Taylor run it out at Eden Park.

But New Zealand Cricket are largely ignoring ODI fixtures this season with the T20 World Cup looming and Guptill hasn’t been in the runs in the T20 format. Far from it. Following last night’s duck, Guptill has now recorded single digit scores in his last eight T20 innings for the Black Caps. For Auckland in the Super Smash, he had scores of 6, 9, 29 and 2 before succumbing to injury.

Putting it alongside the 2019 ODI slide, it seems like a while since he really hit his strides consistently for New Zealand.

His two defining moments in recent times have come in the field, where he certainly hasn’t dropped his form. The stunning run out of MS Dhoni in the World Cup semifinal win in Birmingham turned the game and booked the Black Caps a repeat visit to the final.

While his on-target throw from the deep in the final over at Lord’s unfortunately, ended up becoming the most bizarre six in the history of the game.

He then had the chance to live the dream of all backyard cricket kids. Facing the final ball of a World Cup final, albeit a Super Over, with two runs to win. But unlike Ben Stokes at the end of the England innings, he wasn’t able to pull it off.

And now, it’s becoming impossible to ignore that his Twenty20 form has been way below his best. The Daniel Sams delivery that dismissed him on Monday was in the ‘Guptill zone’ – one where over the years we have repeatedly seen him smash through the covers.

He’s playing for his career this series. Whether Stead will give him the chance to again is the big question.

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