Wellington: New Zealand`s search for stability at the top of the order looks set to continue after Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford were dropped from the list of players awarded central contracts by New Zealand Cricket on Thursday.
While both could still be included in squads in the next 12 months, the fact they had not been included in the 20-player list indicated NZC were preparing to seek alternative openers for the test side.
New Zealand have struggled with a stable opening partnership for the better part of a decade, though Fulton and Rutherford hinted at potential against England last year when they put on 158 for the first wicket, with Rutherford scoring 171 on debut.
In the 11 tests they have opened New Zealand`s batting since, however, they have combined for a total of 539 runs for the first wicket at a modest average of 26.75.
In seven of the 20 innings, their partnership scored less than 10 runs, while they have passed 50 just four times.
Six new players were handed central contracts, with young pace bowlers Adam Milne and Matt Henry the most notable inclusions as the selectors look ahead to the World Cup, which New Zealand will co-host with Australia in early 2015.
Both Milne and Henry impressed earlier this year in limited overs matches, with the former reaching speeds in excess of 150 km per hour before they both suffered injuries.
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson had said Milne was someone who would need to be managed carefully as he continued to grow physically and develop his game.
"We`ll just have to pick and choose when we use him because we don`t want him to be someone that bursts on the scene and then we bust him and then we don`t see him for a couple of years," Hesson told reporters earlier this year.
"So it`s something we`ve got to continue to manage."
Spinners Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig were also given central contracts after both impressed in test cricket in the past year.
Leg-spinner Sodhi is considered a development project by the team, though the emergence of off-spinner Craig on the recent West Indies tour, where New Zealand won the test series 2-1, has improved competition in the slow-bowling department.
"While we accept that Mark and Ish are by no means the finished product, they are promising bowlers that we want to invest time in," chairman of selectors Bruce Edgar said in a statement.
New Zealand`s series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in November would also allow the team to take two specialist spinners into the test matches, Edgar added.
All-rounder Jimmy Neesham was also given a central contract after he scored centuries in his first two tests, while wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi, who has become a limited overs specialist, was also named on the list.
"Jimmy and Luke are both consistent members of our shorter form teams and they`ve recently been selected in our test squad as well," Edgar said.
Edgar added that Tom Latham was the only opening batsman awarded with a central contract, though it would not preclude other players from forcing their way into selection for matches.
Contracted players: Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Mark Craig, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Mitchell McClenaghan, Brendon McCullum, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Adam Milne, Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham, Luke Ronchi, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling, Kane Williamson.