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Batting Issues Remain Unresolved For Vettori

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Napier, Dec 16 NZPA - New Zealand might finally have an opening partnership they can trust - and a test batsman inside the International Cricket Council's top 10 - but run accumulation continues to give Daniel Vettori an uneasy feeling.

In the aftermath of yesterday's damp squib ending to a fluctuating three-test series at McLean Park, New Zealand's only century maker admitted batting remains the prime concern ahead of visits by Bangladesh and Australia from February.

New Zealand was in no danger of dropping a third three-match series after winning the first instalment once they had amassed 471 in their first innings, a total that should have provided Vettori some solace.

It did, but Vettori did top score with 134 and New Zealand required another substantial partnership between the captain and Brendon McCullum to steady an innings in danger of listing at 145 for five.

Tim McIntosh probably safeguarded his career with scores of 74 and 23 not out on one of the best batting surfaces in the country while new opening partner BJ Watling announced his entry to test cricket with an innovative unbeaten 60 before rain ruined New Zealand's charge 118 runs short of victory - and a series triumph.

McIntosh's double lifted his series average from a 9.25 to 26.80 - hardly the ideal numbers for an opener though he and Watling posted stands of 60 and an unbroken 90.

Had the weather not closed in they were in range of constructing New Zealand's first century stand for the opening wicket since Stephen Fleming and Mark Richardson' 163 against England at Trent Bridge in 2004.

Below McIntosh, Martin Guptill and Daniel Flynn - shunted to first drop and No 5 respectively for the Napier test - engendered little confidence.

Guptill tailed off after an encouraging 60 first-up in Dunedin and his contribution is likely to be remembered for the three surprising wickets he claimed here with his offspin.

He averaged 17.60, Flynn a mere 12.90 - ensuring the left hander will be under pressure to retain his place once Jesse Ryder regains fitness.

Ross Taylor was the one success story of the batting unit, his aggregate of 301 at 60.21 included two 90s and hoisted him to the ICC's top 10 test batting rankings for the first time.

Of concern for New Zealand is the fact Vettori was the next highest contributor - 287 at 54.40 in his new position at No 6.

While New Zealand twice made 400-plus, an abysmal 99 at Wellington's Basin Reserve continued to haunt Vettori: "Looking back, that was a part of the test series that let us down."

Had New Zealand managed to post a competitive score in reply to Pakistan's moderate 264 they may have avoided a heavy defeat in the second test and won the series despite yesterday's showers.

"Like always we've just got a little more to do with our batting, there's still areas of concern."

Vettori was impressed debutant Watling, who sparked yesterday's run chase with a one-day style assault.

"It was always going to be a little tricky early on but once he settled in he really dictated play," Vettori said.

Pakistan, meanwhile, had their own batting worries throughout the tour though in 19-year-old Umar Akmal they appear to have a middle order fixture for the foreseeable future.

Akmal made 129 in his first test innings at Dunedin, followed that with a 75 before making 52 plus 46 in Wellington and 77 yesterday - 379 runs at 63.16.

"He batted so well through the series, he's a positive," said Pakistan captain Mohammad Yousuf, who leads his team to Australia today to prepare for Melbourne's Boxing Day test.

Having farewelled retiring fast bowler Iain O'Brien last night, the New Zealand squad disperse today for a rare Christmas off before joining the domestic Twenty20 competition, which starts on January 2.

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