black caps at midnight?

Things are looking  bleak for the NZ cricket team. It feels like the darkest of midnights, with a long time until dawn. Dismissed for 45 and losing by an innings and 27 runs? Sounds pretty bad. But people are over-reacting in their criticism of the team. Here are five reasons for the darkness and why it could still prove to be 4am, rather than midnight.

1. As a sports fan living in Chicago in my early twenties, it was inevitable that I grew to enjoy American sport. One thing I learned is that when the 'front office' is a mess, you cannot expect the team to perform to their potential. If the administrators of the game and the management of the team are a bit lost, it is reasonable to expect the team to be losing as well.

The 'front office' in NZ cricket is a disaster zone. No sooner do they let John Wright go as the coach, then they have the captain of the team fired in the most shameful circumstances.  I was never in favour of Ross Taylor as captain, but the way he was removed is scarcely believable. Let's not allow this bad news in the New Year (about the team) to eclipse the much worse news before Christmas. The feet of the front office need to be kept close to the fire.

2. Brendon McCullum made a huge mistake at the toss when he chose to bat first. While that does not determine the outcome of the game, it had more significance on this game than usual. This is not an issue of skill, but of tactic. The tactic is poorly conceived - and it has been around for some time. They are always wanting to be aggressive. Ever since the latter days of the Fleming-era, this tactical approach by NZ has been evident. It is a nonsense. We Kiwis think we are Aussies, but we aren't. McCullum is not Gilchrist. Taylor is not Ponting. Vettori is not Warne. 'C'mon guys, pull your heads in - and then put your heads down and guts it out.' That is the Kiwi tactic that enables us to box above our weight - occasionally.

3. In a cricket-playing country with such a shallow depth of talent and playing numbers - the weakest among the major nations (and now we are close to no longer being a 'major' nation) - NZ will be affected by injuries far more than other countries. That is not an excuse. It is a reason. When we look across the ditch on this matter, the comparison should be made with Aussie rugby, not Aussie cricket. Look at how the Aussie rugby team responds to an injury crisis. Our Second Cricket XI is just not-up-to scratch. The numbers aren't there. The competition isn't there. Goodness me, the Aussies have just dredged up a potential Glenn McGrath (with Jackson Bird) from about their Third, or Fourth, XI. We cannot afford to be without Taylor, Ryder and Southee (NB: I do not share the average Kiwi's longing for Vettori's skill in the Test team, as reasoned here and here).

4. Unless India and its IPL are stopped from running (or should that be 'ruining'?) the game, the New Zealands, West Indies, and Sri Lankas of this world will be slowly consigned to a second division of Test-playing nations. These countries do not have the money to pay their players at near-IPL levels and the reality of a professional era is that the motivation of playing for money before country becomes irresistible. Football is the exception - but its exceptional status will not migrate over to cricket unless the ICC finds some FIFA backbone and stop bowing to Indians. One of the 'lights at the end of the tunnel' over this past week could be that India has been thrashed by Pakistan in an ODI series at home. This may cause a rethink on priorities - but maybe not (afterall India played just one ODI at home in all of 2012, so they may not care).

5. With #1-#4 asserted, let's be a little more realistic with the New Zealand team. The worst Test-playing country was playing the best Test-playing country - in their home conditions? And the best one won by an innings and 27 runs? Is that so surprising? Not really. 'But, hang on - not so fast, Paul - keep the realism flowing. The '45' and the 'inside three days' are utter shockers'. Yes - they probably are. I grant you that one.

At the moment the NZ cricket team is a below-average team, playing consistently at an inferior skill level. But as for me (but probably not 'my house' - sorry Joshua), I am excited by a Brownlie century and a Southee-less attack reducing the best batting line-up in the world to a first innings score of 347/8. I remember also that we have beaten both Australia and Sri Lanka away-from-home in the past 14 months. And yes - my judgement may be clouded by a delight in seeing youngsters showing some potential. But that is a weakness I take into most areas of life and work. I can live with it. I am willing Williamson to succeed (although I don't like him at #3 yet!). The Southee-Boult combo in South Asia was captivating - just ask Tendulkar and Sangakkara. And yes, I have a soft spot for Jesse - I'd like to see him find his way back (but not as much as I'd like to see Jesus to find him).

NZ cricket is at its lowest ebb - but I ain't gunning for the players yet. Until the front office gets its act together; until there is a change in tactics; until we get closer to putting our best XI on the field; and until the ICC works-out a bit more and turns flab into muscle, this team is going to struggle.

But what do I know? I am sitting here in India, having not seen a single second of the recent Test.


nice chatting


Andrew said…
Yep. It wasn't the deficit of talent that irked me, it was the deficit of thinking and the deficit of courage to play test cricket differently than the opposition. It is the greatest sign of intimidation when your opposition make you play like them - e.g. "be aggressive". I think Fleming highlighted the way that when you play powerful and superior teams they can make you try and play their game - lots of teams tried to out-Australia the Australians and were destroyed with tests ending in 3-4 days. The point of test cricket is that the 5 days allows for a huge diversity of approaches that allow inferior teams to beat superior teams through superior tactics. The stupid rhetoric about being aggressive is NZ being drawn into creating tactics in the shadow of superior opposition. Getting out by being aggressive is weak tactics and a sign of mental weakness. It means we're not willing to look ugly as we face class bowling. People like Mark Taylor (and Mark Richardson) rate their ugliest 100s as their best 100s. They struggled under huge pressure, they got beat up by the bowlers and made to look silly, but they refused to get out and had gameplans that to ensure there were minimal ways they could get out.
There was a season under Fleming where NZ were known for leading the way tactically in test cricket and often turned up surprising results that got the most out of the talents we've got (rather than talents we don't have). Vicitms of this careful tactical planning were Steve Waugh (the short ball from Bond with a leg gully); Damien Martyn (2 or 3 gullys and let him play his favourite cut shot); Ponting (lunges outside off and also falls away when playing through the legside early in his innings); make McGrath and Lee bowl to us (leave everything that won't hit the stumps - approx 90% of deliveries) and take the game into the 5th day... Fleming created the, now widely used, mid on who stands in front of the non-striker on the pitch to catch the drive that is sightly uncontrolled. Whilst knocking stumps out of the ground or knicking people out is more exciting, there are other ways you can get people out but they might not seem as exciting. This made test cricket much more interesting to watch instead of shallow comments about being aggressive and we were at least in the contest. We need thoughful ways to get the most out our talent instead of trying to "out-SA" the SAs. (Rant over)
Paul Windsor said…
It never fails to amaze me all the different ways in which we are bound together as friends.

How come we don't have our own cricket show? You could be the face - and I could be the producer. It would be awesome.
Andrew said…
Yes, we should have a cricket show! Unfortunately I have the perfect face for radio, so I think you should front it (or else I have a colleague who's renowned for their body and looks)...
christplaysnz said…
No sooner do they let John Wright go as the coach, then they have the captain of the team fired in the most shameful circumstances. I was never in favour of Ross Taylor as captain, but the way he was removed is scarcely believable.

Funny that you characterize it that way, I was thinking that the way he was removed was profoundly baptist... Never have the politics of sport looked more like the mundane (and equally shameful) politics of the local church.
Paul Windsor said…
Yes, I do have to confess that at the bleakest moments my mind did drift across to things denominational as well. And since I left the country, I read that Shane Bond has also entered the fray...

As for our TV show, Andrew, I think I have a couple of days with that colleague of yours in beach-laden Sri Lanka before we get into the week's training together. Not just a face for TV - but a body for beaches. As you might suspect, we will be heading for the mountains, letting Kandy enjoy the eye-candy.

A great win this morning. Jimmy should be captain, coach and selector (oops - they've already tried that model, haven't they?!)

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