Martin Guptill is yet to score a century against India © Getty Images
Martin Guptill is yet to score a century against India © Getty Images

It is very interesting how a single player influences an entire team. It has happened to every team. It had happened to India when Sachin Tendulkar bade adieu to international cricket, to Sri Lanka when Kumar Sangakkara announced his retirement and so on. However, it is the other experienced players in the team, who take on the responsibilities to maintain the form of the team. Players like MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli stepped in to help India skip the transition period smoothly while Angelo Mathews did a very good job along with veteran Tillakaratne Dilshan for Sri Lanka to build a team from scratch.

Gone February, New Zealand went through a similar phase. Brendon McCullum, a New Zealand legend in senses, ended his international career in style, still staying in form. While the void was definitely a huge one to fill up, every player has to retire some day. The time was right, or at least Baz thought so. While Kane Williamson acted mature to emerge as a knight in the shining armour for New Zealand with his class and potential, someone with a lot more experience than a lot of other players in the current team has not been up to the mark. Martin Guptill is yet to justify his presence in the Test side.

Guptill has been there with the Test side for seven years now. In his 44-Test career he has scored only 3 centuries. While his first century and career-best of 189 came batting in the middle-order, he was soon promoted up the order due to lack of a proper opener. Guptill has played most of his career batting as an opener or top-order batsman. The change should have worked in favour of the man who scored a 189 within a year of making his Test debut. Being an opener comes with its advantages: for example, you get the maximum chance to bat. Opening the innings, you are ensured of batting in every innings the team bats, which bears way more opportunities of pulling off bigger knocks than any other batsmen in the line-up.

Unfortunately, sending someone up to open comes with a lot of responsibilities. Openers are the ones who help the foundation of an innings. They are the base that needs to be strong enough for the rest of the building to pile upon. The openers are expected to be more consistent than their teammates. Has Guptill been consistent? Let us have a look at his numbers.

In his last 10 innings he has scored a half-century just once. In his entire career he has hit 16 half-centuries. Exactly half of these was scored at home. You cannot define consistency based on only home conditions. Guptill’s records expose his lack of form overseas. While he averages 36.38 at home (which is already ordinary), his average outside New Zealand drops to 24.71 — not something a team expects from a potential opener, and that is being polite.

Playing in India has not been the best of experiences for New Zealand. Their batsmen have never been comfortable in front of spin, probably because of lack of exposure to conditions that favour spin. Pitches in New Zealand typically induce extra bounce and support seam bowling. Guptill, who opens the innings, gets to face seamers more than spinners in any case. It is certainly easier for Guptill to face a similar bowling under conditions where it is difficult to produce as much bounce. However, the picture is different. The last time before the ongoing series when New Zealand played Test in India, it was Umesh Yadav who got Guptill the last time. Entering the series this time, it was Umesh who got him again.

Guptill has rarely looked to have understood spin in Indian conditions unlike his teammate Kane Williamson who has read spin better and quicker. Williamson makes those changes promptly with the change of bowlers and that is where his success story hides.

One of the prominent problems in Guptill’s techniques that has not changed much over time is his lack of footwork. Guptill tends to place his front-foot way before, a trait that seems to come naturally in his batting. While this comes as a blessing as he gets to the pitch of the ball and play big hits with ease (which makes him a potential limited-overs big shot), the misjudgement costs him his wicket many times, more with the good length deliveries.

Again, getting his front-foot grounded early lets him limited opportunities to make those last-moment changes that help a batsman to observe the ball till the last moment. His shot selection depends mostly on his anticipation depending upon the release point of the ball and is bound to get him on doosras. This is a reason that has made him Ravichandran Ashwin’s bunny.

However, Guptill has had a lot of chances to better his batting – both in number of matches and in varied conditions. He is easily one of the most experienced New Zealand players to have played in India, including both for his country across formats and in IPL, where he represents Mumbai Indians (MI), which involves playing in the subcontinent in about a couple of months every year and playing different types of bowlers. IPL is a place where top players from around the world gather to share the talent in them. Playing in such a tournament that intense helps one develop techniques against different bowlers.

If you are forgiving (or biased) you can still forgive Guptill’s performance against spin. However, there is no justification for his repeated failure against Indian pacers, who are not the fastest in the world and in conditions where producing swing is a task. Guptill needs to learn and adapt to retain his place in the New Zealand Test side. While letting a player continue despite a bad patch provides him with confidence, New Zealand may have given Guptill a longer rope than they should have. There must be competition for slots, as that is something that pushes a player to do better with every passing day. The fear that he may lose his spot due to constant underperformance works for players to work hard on his skills; if repeated chances are not working for Guptill, a temporary axing might be something he (and New Zealand) needs at this point of the time.

Guptill has talent and potential. He needs the intent to maintain his form. He needs to show to the world what he can do once settled at the crease. Guptill needs to justify why he deserves the place he holds in the side.

(Paulami Chakraborty, a singer, dancer, artist, and photographer, loves the madness of cricket and writes about the game. She can be followed on Twitter at @Polotwitts)