WELLINGTON, Oct 20 (Reuters) - All rounder Jimmy Neesham has been given the first opportunity to settle questions at the top of New Zealand's order ahead of next year's cricket World Cup when he opens the batting with Martin Guptill against South Africa on Tuesday.
The attacking Neesham has typically batted lower down the order for New Zealand but with coach Mike Hesson looking for a replacement for the out-of-favour Jesse Ryder, the 24-year-old lefthander will occupy the role against the Proteas at Mount Maunganui in the first match of the three-game series.
"He will get an opportunity tomorrow at the top of the order," captain Brendon McCullum told reporters at Bay Oval on Monday, while confirming that batsmen Ross Taylor (calf) and Kane Williamson (wrist) and pace bowler Tim Southee (shoulder) would not be considered.
"He's an exciting player and it's not an easy role that, especially against a team like South Africa with their quick bowling options.
"Until you put people in those positions you're not 100 per cent sure how they're going to respond.
"For me it's about how he goes about constructing his innings. If we can get that destructive kind of player at the top, playing with some freedom, then that goes a long way to assisting us with the rest of our lineup."
Neesham's inclusion at the top of the order could not only settle the Ryder question, but also provide coach Mike Hesson with options lower down the order.
Hesson has already said that with Williamson's off-spin bowling under review by International Cricket Council accredited biomechanists, he wanted one of his top five to be able to bowl a few overs during each match in the global showpiece as well.
Neesham's ability to bowl handy medium pace could help settle any selection quandaries as they look to settle the mix of their World Cup squad.
Ryder has not been considered for New Zealand since he was disciplined for a heavy drinking session the night before a test match against India in February.
The 30-year-old had a successful county season in England and local media had reported of possible rapprochement talks between Hesson and the aggressive batsman, though the coach is obviously casting his eye over potential replacements.
McCullum added that batsman Dean Brownlie, who impressed on a New Zealand 'A' tour in England earlier this year, would bat in Williamson's number three spot on Tuesday.
McCullum said the clash against South Africa should be a good marker for how they need to progress towards the Feb. 14-March 29 tournament co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia.
"If we look forward four to six months to the World Cup, for us to win it we need to go in with momentum," McCullum said.
"We've got to play some good cricket going in, and we've got to build some depth in case we are struck down with injuries or loss of form." (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)