<i>It's over and out for Braces </i>

If New Zealand's cricket team was winning you could forgive John Bracewell his eccentricities.

But the team is losing and Bracewell has now taken enough rope ... if he has any respect for the game in this country he should resign from his position as coach as soon as possible and give us all the gift we deserve: freedom from the invective and derision of others.

New Zealand Cricket chief executive Justin Vaughan has so far been supportive of Bracewell, who has just returned from a failed 10-week tour of South Africa and Australia, which produced two test defeats, a string of one-day losses and one victory of note, a one-day win over South Africa.

Following the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy disaster, which was as equally embarrassing for the results as Bracewell's foot in mouth exploits, Vaughan said Bracewell's job was safe, seemingly through to the conclusion of his two-year contract which expires in June 2009.

"He's under no more pressure than when he started [four years ago]," Vaughan said. "Sure the results were disappointing and he is under pressure ... I hope he is feeling the pressure, because things have to improve.

"But we've just played two difficult sides. The results were disappointing but we expect that to improve now.

"He's got two home series against Bangladesh and England now, which we should win."

As an aside, that attitude is hardly encouraging: accept losses to the good teams and expect to beat the bad? Where will that get us?

Anyway, if the coach had been a player, his behaviour in recent weeks would be enough to have him charged with bringing the game into disrepute.

It's one thing to play sport fiercely and there was no more fierce competitor than Bracewell in his pomp but, to use one of Graham Henry's favourite words of late, you must also do it with dignity.

Remember how we used to laugh at France rugby coach Bernard Laporte? Well that's happening to Bracewell but only it's worse.

Laporte was dubbed "crazy", but Bracewell has already moved well beyond that sort of eccentricity.

Doubtful? Take this from Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper: "Sport is littered with wacky, offbeat and controversial characters such as tennis dad Damir Dokic, trash-talking boxer Anthony Mundine and eccentric basketball lair Dennis Rodman.

"But maverick New Zealand cricket coach John Bracewell might just take the cake as the most bewildering of them all. Despite presiding over the great pretenders of world cricket a team that has won just one of its past eight tests and two of its past nine one-dayers Bracewell continues to deliver a string of incredible outbursts."

A Sydney paper recently commented on Bracewell's "unremarkable four years in charge" and former Aussie star Darren "Boof" Lehmann had this to say in his local Adelaide Advertiser newspaper: "If the Black Caps keep struggling like that he [Bracewell] probably won't be in the job much longer.

"New Zealand's past players are not happy with how the team is being run, judging from reports I am hearing across the Tasman. I expect NZ Cricket will look at other options if the team doesn't improve soon."

The options include current high performance manager John Wright, who achieved formidable results with hard-to-control India but is perhaps not ready for the turmoil of another international coaching role.

Martin Crowe? One day surely his massive cricket brain has to be put to use with the Black Caps.

In the meantime we live with Bracewell's nonsense, which as, Vaughan implied, you could forgive if the team was winning. But they're not.

The Black Caps' record for 2007 was 14 wins and 14 losses, with some of those wins courtesy of a generous world cup draw that gave them games against Ireland, Canada, Scotland and Bangladesh.

And the losses? Oh my. By 189 runs to Sri Lanka, by 105 runs to Australia, by 215 runs to Australia, by 81 runs tio Sri Lanka, by 114 runs to Australia.

Not losses. Annihilations.

Admittedly, the talent well Bracewell has to work with is not deep, but that's no wonder when a guy such as Andre Adams, the most in-form player in domestic cricket, refuses to play in a Bracewell-coached team.

Then there are the retirements of Nathan Astle and Chris Cairns; players who'd grown sick and tired of the way they were being coached.

But with the players available, are the best being picked?

It's been well-documented this week that the Kiwis erred when naming Mark Gillespie to play in the final Chappell-Hadlee one-dayer in Hobart. In hindsight, Chris Martin should have retained the place he'd earned for the washed-out game in Sydney.

But what about the selection of Daryl Tuffey for the world cup? Mad.

Bracewell does have his virtues. Our spin bowlers, Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel, are among the best in the world. And it's not Bracewell's fault that Shane Bond and the other quick bowlers suffer so many injuries. But the fielding? It has often been atrocious. That's the coach's domain.

And the batting?

Sure there's a new specialist batting coach in Mark O'Neill, but there hasn't seemed to be any philosophy around improving the batsmen. Under Bracewell, Hamish Marshall was allowed to practice with just throw downs. Look where that got him.

Our batsmen can't handle fast, furious bowling. What has been done to rectify that? On the surface nothing.

The buck has to stop somewhere.

Bracewell has made a hash of things off the field, his decision-making is questionable at best and has not got the results.

In one-dayers, his record has been no better than anyone else could have and has achieved: a 50% win-loss record has been New Zealand's modus operandi for many years.

And don't even ask about the test results (oh, OK, nine wins from 31 games with 14 losses).

A satisfactory gift for cricket fans this summer is not a series win over Bangladesh, it's the end of the Bracewell era.


Sunday Star Times