Sideshow or not, heat's on Bleak Caps (+video)

Last updated 09:08 15/05/2008

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The changing face of the game was no more evident than the Black Caps' arrival at London's Heathrow Airport.

No captain, vice-captain and three senior players. An active media barely noticed. The bedrock county system attracted more interest. Fanfare and festivity lay elsewhere, in the subcontinent. By comparison we are "unsexy", "only" New Zealand', a team England will "surely dispatch".

So the Bleak Caps began (historically) the most important tour on their schedule by stirring up apathy.

England regard New Zealand as a sideshow to sterner tests against South Africa later in the summer – a modest short-term demand. THE goal is the Ashes of 2009.

They're right though. It's a raw and mediocre-looking side made increasingly fragile with the retirement of Stephen Fleming and the available yet unselectable Shane Bond. A green team for May's green and seamy tracks.

Factors have conspired to reduce options for the selectors – stick with the status quo and stall development further, or embrace youthful exuberance and hope? This is the catch 22.

Consistent sides include perhaps one youngster with talent. But five? Forget Tim Southee for a moment, all ours are batsmen. I am fearful if we perform poorly that England may send us to that place Zimbabwe and Bangladesh reside – a two-match test series. Australia perhaps begin to see us in this context already. How has this happened?

The reasons vary. Some are more easily controlled than others. Natural attrition is always a factor in team construction (Fleming), cricket's refurbished marketplace has inspired a new-found love of the subcontinent (Craig McMillan, Lou Vincent and Scott Styris) and rumoured problems at coach and board level have annoyed some players (Nathan Astle, Chris Cairns, Fleming and Hamish Marshall).

Selectorial policy should never permit such an influx of inexperience. A long-term view introduces new players carefully in an ordered way so that a balanced structure of new and old exists.

In an ideal world, Jamie How and Ross Taylor would be two of our young stars poised for development. An England tour is an ideal place for them to progress. However, compared to their top- order teammates, they are senior statesmen. And Taylor himself was dropped as recently as the Bangladesh series. Is this the way to develop long-term players?

Despite circumstances, the squad looks unbalanced. Five seam bowlers (an aging population of 29-33) and Jacob Oram. It does appear heavily weighted – six into four (test requirements) when the batting looks so inexperienced and unknown is a luxury. The top five batsmen register 19 tests between them. Similar batting positions for the Bangladesh side that played New Zealand recently held 115 tests and their current opposition 221. All England whiff crumbly collapso.

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Batting has been a concern. Over the past 10 tests, New Zealand have batted, on average, 76 overs in their first innings. With such limited scope, there's a need to score above a one-day rate to remain competitive. But they actually score 3-3.5 runs per over.

Oram, Daniel Vettori and Kyle Mills may need to bat their trousers off to keep this side afloat. And that merely delays the inevitable time when they remove the pads to go out and bowl.

Anyone will tell you when the market is weak it is an opportunity. The players will give as much of themselves as possible. Because the bowling is more settled and backed by energetic fielding, this tour may hinge on whether our younger players can score runs. It is a high-risk strategy.

- The Dominion Post

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