John Bracewell concedes that if his reign as New Zealand coach is judged on results he has been a failure but he says he gave it an "honest shot" and has only a few regrets.
After five years at the helm, the man with a distinctively loud laugh and hunched upper back farewelled his players in the foyer of the Hyatt Hotel in Adelaide on Tuesday morning.
Bracewell chose to stay in Adelaide for an extra day to visit family and he now plans to freshen up in Christchurch for a few months before heading back to England in April to coach English county Gloucestershire.
In a revealing interview, he outlined the highs and lows of the job and some of the obstacles and mistakes along the way.
He admits losing 20 of 41 tests was way below his expectations, not to mention everyone else's.
"I feel as though I've given it a honest shot but in terms of pure statistics or results New Zealand Cricket wanted us to be No1 in world cricket in both forms of the game and we didn't reach that, so if you look at it like that I've been a failure."
Bracewell was brought in to improve New Zealand's one-day fortunes (won 61 of 106) but no one expected it would come at such a cost to the longer version of the game.
He believes they scouted well, created opportunities but unfortunately wet their pants (not his words) when a test was in the balance.
"In test cricket our planning has been very, very good in that we often get ourselves in a position to win but often we run out of steam trying to fulfil that.
"That is disappointing, but there are not too many tests that we don't put ourselves in a position to win at some stage. We just lose critical moments too often."
Bracewell departs with the tag "controversial" next to his name. He brought in rotation, baited the Aussies, said plenty of weird things and cut senior players such as Chris Cairns, Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan and Scott Styris less slack than they were used to.
He maintains rotation got them to the semifinals of the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, a journey he rates as the highlight of his tenure.
"The World Cup and the way we went about our business - we planned very well for that.
"Our guys were ready to perform at that tournament and we tipped over England, South Africa and West Indies but some of the things that happened were out of our control in terms of critical guys [Shane Bond] injured on the morning of the match [Australia].
"We planned it well, stuck to the course [rotation] against a wave of criticism and I was really pleased with the way the team and Stephen [Fleming] and our leaders bought into the plan."
PERHAPS Bracewell's biggest howler was not digging his toes in when fellow selectors Dion Nash and Glenn Turner wanted Fleming sacked as test captain.
The remaining selector, Richard Hadlee, was happy to sit on the fence so Bracewell accepted he had been outvoted, which technically he had.
"That was a consensus decision and in the end all captains come and go and have their times, as coaches do. I think we all could have done better."
Asked to elaborate on the full circumstances, he declines, saying, "one day that may come out".
"Stephen captained for most of my reign and he was an outstanding captain and Dan is a different captain and an outstanding leader in his own right and I don't regret Dan's had an opportunity to captain the side under my watch. I've really enjoyed both guys' leadership style."
Say what you like about Bracewell but you could never accuse him of being thin-skinned. Former players and the media have hoed into him in recent years, sometimes fairly, sometimes not.
Astle and McMillan have occasionally been on his case. Bracewell fast-tracked Astle's retirement by giving the former one-day star the willies by making him target No1 during the days of rotation.
He claims they were not easy players to control. "They didn't like change. In order to be No1 it is all about change and being the best in the team wasn't getting us to No1. It was difficult for both of them to accept they needed to make some adjustments to their game - the way they played, how they prepared. A simple question like asking them to leave their golf clubs behind at home and bring their cricket bats was too much for them."
BRACEWELL can be a contradiction. He claims he does not read newspapers, then describes one of his darkest days in the job as seeing a report inferring his treatment of Lou Vincent had contributed to the player's mental illness.
"That was a very hard time, that hit me pretty bad," he says. "The truth is that behind the scenes the management team had been working really hard with Lou to look after him."
As for the media in general, Bracewell came to the conclusion he was in a no-win situation.
"At times both the media and myself weren't the best of friends but that is the nature of the business. If it's a kiss-arse business, you are in the wrong one, both from a media perspective and a coaching perspective.
"You've got to cop it and sometimes you've got to give it and you regret that you've given it because the media always have the last shot."
Bracewell is happy to finish up. An insider says he could have gone out on a high after New Zealand beat England in the one-day series in July but was worried he would leave the team in the lurch.
His successor has been found, journeyman Andy Moles.
Bracewell believes Moles is taking over a team that eventually will give world cricket a shake.
"These guys are enormously talented and when they harness it and realise it and get into it they will play some really exciting cricket.
"They live in the highlights, they play in the highlights and that is what the public want to see.
"There will be some high and lows, I suspect, but, man, when they get it right some of these batters will be absolutely outstanding."
As the New Zealand team gathered in the foyer of the hotel to say goodbye, Bracewell showed a human side before rising to his feet.
"I'm very close to them, it's been a long association. It's a family unit with extremely high team spirit. They are close to each other and I will miss them."
Tests: Played 41, won 13, lost 20, drawn 8. Highlights 2004-05: Beat Sri Lanka 1-0 in New Zealand. 2005-06: Beat West Indies 2-0 in New Zealand. One-day internationals: Played 106, won 61, lost 38, tied 1, no-results 6. Highlights 2004: NatWest Trophy (England, West Indies) in England. 2006: Champions Trophy semifinals, India. 2006-07: Beat Australia 3-0 in New Zealand (Chappell-Hadlee Series). 2006-07: World Cup semifinals, West Indies.
- The Dominion Post
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