What is the target and how do we hit it?

GLENN TURNER
Last updated 05:00 07/01/2012

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OPINION: John Wright and Ross Taylor have both made strong statements about the significance of test cricket and its importance to New Zealand.

Director of cricket John Buchanan, on the other hand, said when he first arrived that the national team's focus over the next four years was going to be on limited-overs cricket.

Buchanan's reasoning was New Zealand had shown more ability in one-day cricket than in tests.

That's true; the evidence is there for all to see. The temptation is, therefore, to pick up on what appears to be the easier option for immediate improvement in results.

The recent test win against higher ranked Australia will, for some, raise questions as to where the focus should lie, and why.

It's hard to fathom just what concentrating on one form of the game and not another means.

Does it mean fewer resources being put into test cricket, adjusting the timing of the test programme to accommodate additional one-day and Twenty20 stuff, or maybe encouraging players to take their holidays during tests, or what?

My belief is that initially, players develop more by concentrating on the longer forms of the game. How? Because it gives them more playing time, therefore with less pressure, to develop their core skills.

If tests are not the priority, it's a bit confusing when NZ Cricket gives a handsome 12-month retainer to one player who is only available for test matches, and another 12-month retainer to one who is available for all forms of the game, but is likely to be selected only for test cricket.

But if one-dayers are to be our priority, to give ourselves the best chance of winning the 2015 World Cup, planning needs to begin with the imminent Zimbabwe series.

Most of the initiatives should point towards players working on finding their "A" game and practising it relentlessly until they become consistently good at applying it.

Furthermore, players should not rely on, or be distracted by anyone else in achieving that goal.

You can bet your bottom dollar there will be many staff changes between now and 2015 (if recent history is anything to go by), and every man and his dog will be putting their oar in along the way.

My advice to players is, choose your counsel carefully, open your mind to learning, and be personally responsible for your own development and performance.

There's a need to choose emerging players to find out who has the required talent to be persevered with. This work should start immediately.

At the same time it would be prudent to look at the current crop of players with a view to assessing which of them are most likely to be good enough to retain their places in the team through to and including the World Cup in 2015.

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In the past two World Cups, the reality has been that selections, player preparation and their approach tactically to games have been more about saving face (putting in a respectable performance) than aggressively going out to win games. The fear of losing badly has tended to dominate thinking and consequently winning has too often relied on opponents having a bad day. South Africa did exactly that against New Zealand last year, allowing New Zealand to progress through to the semifinal stage. Set a modest total of 221, SA could only muster 172 in reply.

Leading into the World Cup, New Zealand's results on the subcontinent were so bad (0-4 against Bangladesh and 0-5 against India), that a last-minute panic resulted in major changes to the support personnel. At this point it was understandable coach John Wright, the new crew and all those with an interest in the national team, were going to be happy with a semifinal berth no matter how it was achieved.

The decision should be made earlier rather than later on whether continuing to reach semifinals is our ultimate goal.

If we are not happy with that and are serious about giving ourselves the best chance of winning the next World Cup, we had better start preparing now.

Whether World Cups warrant so much importance is another matter. But currently, World Cups are given all-important status.

When comparing the batting statistics of the winning team, India, with our own in the last World Cup, it's clear just how much we need to improve to be serious contenders for the top prize. As part of formulating that view, I have compared the batting statistics of the first five batsmen for both New Zealand and India against just the top teams. I included Bangladesh in the top grouping because they had beaten New Zealand 4-0 in a series just prior to the World Cup. I didn't, however, include Zimbabwe for obvious reasons.

Our statistics against Australia, Pakistan, South Africa, and Sri Lanka twice, read: McCullum five innings, 53 runs, 10.60 average, 94.60 strike rate; Guptill 5-120-24-56.33; Ryder 5-146-36.50-69.85; Taylor 5-250-62.50-76.21; Styris 5-107-21.40-73.79.

The Indian statistics include two more games than New Zealand because they had Bangladesh in their group and they played the final. Their matches include England, South Africa, West Indies, Australia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Tendulkar 7-417-59.37-93.49; Sehwag 7-336-56-119.57; Gambhir 7-355-50.71-84.72; Kohli 7-236-39.33-87.4; Yuvraj 7-261-65.25-95.95.

- Wellington

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