Guptill the talk of town and country
New Zealand was talking about cricket on Thursday morning. There has been significant interest in the contests against South Africa, but there was a hint of the 2015 World Cup vibe in the aftermath of Martin Guptill's unbeaten 180 in Hamilton.
It was a shame the innings did not have a bigger crowd to witness it than 2264 - a result, largely, of the reasonably late change of venue when the game was moved from Napier - but Guptill was a main topic of breakfast TV and radio while there was a bigger-than-average media huddle to speak to coach Mike Hesson in Auckland.
"As good as it gets," Hesson said. "It's hard to beat quarter-final 200 [against West Indies], but that came close. He hit the ball well at training, but I don't think anyone expected that. His composure in the chase showed he was never satisfied."
Guptill is a cricketer of contrasts. A one-day record to stand up against anyone - and above many - but Test numbers that, despite the occasional sparkle, are nondescript. That should not matter a jot. It is perfectly natural for Guptill to want the chance to improve his long-form numbers, but he changes the dynamic of New Zealand's one-day top order so much that it should remain the priority.
If he is part of a New Zealand side that wins the Champions Trophy this year, or the World Cup in 2019, that will be his legacy. Not whether he can lift his Test average from 29 to 32. Against the white ball, there is no one in New Zealand who can replicate what Guptill provides. It certainly looks like Kings XI Punjab have picked up a bargain for the IPL.
He was dropped from the Test side at the beginning of the home summer and won't be making a swift return. Hesson is not a man to suddenly make a u-turn and confirmed he would not feature against South Africa.
His latest run, from being recalled against England in 2015, was 16 matches in which he averaged 28.93. That came after a stellar World Cup - further evidence that success in one format does not mean success in another. There was the occasional highlight, such as his 156 against Sri Lanka, but only five other half-centuries in 30 innings, although one of those did come in his last Test against India at Indore.
If there is a future for Guptill in Test cricket, it will be in the middle order with New Zealand having hatched a plan with Auckland for him to bat in that position when he returns to Plunket Shield action. He averages 43.37 from nine innings in positions four to six, mostly in 2010, though that is padded considerably by 245 runs in one match against Bangladesh.
"Martin and I have certainly talked about Test cricket a lot and he certainly gave batting at the top of the order a fairly good crack," Hesson said. "But the middle order is something we are keen to explore at the first-class level first. Martin and Auckland Cricket are certainly receptive to that, which is great. At the moment, it's a difficult spot to find. Our Test team has won four on the bounce and the middle order is performing well, but certainly something we'll look to explore."
While Guptill's most recent spell in the Test side was ultimately unconvincing, Hesson said that a greater experience had helped him deal with the fluctuating fortunes of the game, as evidenced by the fact that while his Test form oscillated, the two years from the start of the 2015 World Cup have seen him become the second-most prolific one-day batsman behind David Warner, who he is quickly catching.
"Cricket does that, you have more failures than success, and as a young player, you have to cope with that," Hesson said. "Martin's confident in his game and has reached a level of maturity where he's consistent and perhaps doesn't ride the highs and lows younger players do. He's comfortable in his skin and batting well."
Batting well is an understatement, and Guptill can stand among the finest limited-overs batsmen of all-time. New Zealand will hope starting at Eden Park on Saturday he gets the country talking again.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo