WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Jeet Raval’s run of poor form is the only major concern for New Zealand as they head across the Tasman Sea looking to win a first test series in Australia since 1985 but coach Gary Stead still has confidence the opening batsman will come good.
Raval scored 19, 5 and 0 in his three innings of New Zealand’s 1-0 series victory over England, which the hosts clinched on Tuesday.
The left-hander has scored a combined 88 runs, with a high of 33, in his last 10 innings since notching his maiden test century against Bangladesh in February.
Stead, however, said Raval was still their best option against an Australian pace battery that includes Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
“Jeet didn’t have a strong series but we’ve got confidence in him as an opening bat,” he told reporters in Hamilton.
“He’s got a very good record with Tom (Latham) and they’ve forged a really strong opening partnership for us.
“He eats into a good number of balls – 75 balls on average – and he’s done it over a good period of time so far. I’m confident he can get us away to the start that we want.”
Despite his lack of form, Raval was never in danger of being dropped for the Australia series, which starts in Perth on Dec. 12, with the side having few other options to open the batting.
Martin Guptill and Hamish Rutherford have failed to make the most of their opportunities while the uncapped Will Young had shoulder surgery earlier this year and is expected to be out of action for 10 months.
Some pundits have suggested middle order batsman Henry Nicholls or wicketkeeper BJ Watling, who started his career at the top of the order, could be promoted to open, with Tom Blundell taking the gloves from Watling.
However, both those options could upset the balance of the batting lineup, especially in the middle order where Nicholls, Watling, Colin de Grandhomme and Mitchell Santner have enjoyed success.
De Grandhomme and pace bowler Trent Boult missed the second test against England and the pair are to undergo fitness evaluations ahead of the opening match against Australia.
Stead said his side would be facing an in-form Australia in the series, which includes New Zealand’s first Boxing Day test in Melbourne since 1987 and New Year’s test in Sydney since 1974.
“We’re under no illusions that Australia are playing really good cricket at the moment and appear to be somewhere back to their best,” he added.
“Our challenge will be to stand up to that fight and make sure we’re in that fight for long periods.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)