How Grant Elliott came in from the cold to shine for NZ on the biggest stage

Grant Elliott celebrates after hitting a six to send New Zealand into the World Cup final.
Peter Meecham/Fairfax NZ

Grant Elliott celebrates after hitting a six to send New Zealand into the World Cup final.

Two years ago New Zealand coach Mike Hesson opened up a file and typed the words "World Cup" which signalled the start of his commitment to the tournament.

He had a clear idea of how he wanted his team to play and who he wanted in the squad and he roughly estimated there were 40 one-day internationals before cricket's 'Big Show' started.

Being so far out Hesson resisted the temptation to write down his preferred XI, instead he grouped the players according to their skillset.

For instance his openers were Martin Guptill, Jesse Ryder, Anton Devcich, Jimmy Neesham and Brendon McCullum.

His middle order group also included McCullum for that was where he was more likely to bat, but this group did not include Grant Elliott, at least not in bold print.

His spinners included Daniel Vettori, with an asterisk due to his fitness.

Trent Boult was among the fast bowlers, for the net was wide and Boult was showing promise in the red-ball game.

As New Zealand stand on the precipice of something extraordinary in Melbourne on Sunday, it is apparent the position they find themselves in is due to a combination of three factors.

Firstly, smart strategising over a long period by Hesson. Secondly, unbelievable instinctive captaincy from Brendon McCullum and thirdly - and put simply - everything falling into place better than anyone could have scripted.

Hesson is at the MCG as he reflects on the campaign.

Ad Feedback

"We've had a couple of hiccups along the way that adjusted things, but the bulk of the planning pretty much need to work out as planned, or if not slightly better," he said.

"The whole idea of all those [40] games is you give people opportunity to grab it and once they do then that makes your job easier.

"We certainly didn't sit down two years ago and say this is what the team is. It was 'this is what the team needs to look like' in terms of the way we want to play. These are the types of players we want in particular roles and then it is about providing opportunities to enough people and thankfully we've had quite a few people grab those."

Hesson introduced McCullum to his planning relatively early, spelling out the blueprint of how New Zealand were best to play at the World Cup. Basically it was to be a power game with the bat and all out attack with the ball.

"Six months ago we realised our style of play worked, and with the playing conditions and the grounds that we were confronted with, this was the style of play we could get the most consistency out of," Hesson said.

"We were trying to find a formula that would work over a period of time, not just a one off.

"Everything we do is a combination, but Brendon has amazing instinct. His instinct out in the field is what drives this group. He is able to seize the moment, he is able to work out what the team needs at an appropriate time.

"That style of play, that aggressive style of play of needing to take wickets, we know that has to be the case with the playing conditions the way they are. There are other sides that choose to do it differently and that is OK but that is the message we live by."

The hiccup referred to earlier was Ryder. He was in New Zealand's plans till he withdrew from the one-day leg of the tour to the United Arab Emirates in December for personal reasons.

"We needed to look at everyone and that was a tour Jesse needed to go on and it wasn't to be so we had to move on," Hesson said.

After the UAE exercise the stars started to align. McCullum shifted to the top of the order to provide the flying start. "Baz was capable of playing both [roles] but in the end it worked nicely.

"Three or four months ago it worked out that the team needed a strike rate at the top and it worked out he was the man."

Vettori began reporting in fit everyday, running the roads and with a new lease on life. "He was always someone we hoped would get there and we gave him as much opportunity as we could to get there.

"He had the operation [Achilles] which was critical to him moving forward and once he had that he was away. It was always 50/50 with him, but we knew we had cover in the background with Nathan [McCullum], who has always performed well for us."

Elliott came in from the cold and like McCullum in his new role and Vettori in his old one has been a revelation. He wasn't in our top 20, 12 months ago," Hesson said.

"He was right on the fringe and we picked him in New Zealand A because we like that experience in the middle.

"With Brendon moving up the top, we needed someone in the middle who could bowl and I guess our hand was forced a little bit with Kane Williamson's situation, not being able to bowl [because of an illegal action], so we needed that guy batting at No 5 to be a bowling option and that certainly brought Grant back into the mix."

Another cup hero in Boult, appeared to be fighting for his spot until late in the piece.

"Boulty was always in our plans.

"It was just a matter of managing his workload. When you are at that age and new to international cricket you can't play all forms so to get him to the starting post some guys have to start a little later than others." Much has been made this week of the MCG factor. New Zealand have a challenge on their hands, not only by leaving their home patch for the first time in the cup but going from postage stamp sized grounds to cricket's colosseum. Hesson shrugs it all off in his own inimitable style. "The conditions aren't hugely different to New Zealand. It has changed a lot over the years when New Zealand used to have slow, low wickets. The change to Australia was significant, now it's not."

The coach has just about done all he can, maybe just a final speech to come that reflects two years of successful planning. "I've got a bit of an idea of what I'll say. They won't need to be inspirational words. All the guys know what they need to do so it is just a matter of staying on task. We'll have no issue doing that."

 - The Dominion Post

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback