Mike Hesson faces up to cricket's big question
There's no quick fix, or “silver bullet” as new coach Mike Hesson likes to call it, for the Black Caps' batting woes but on the eve of his first tour in charge, Hesson proved he has clearly been thinking about solving the problem. A lot.
He departed Christchurch for India yesterday with part of the squad - the rest leave today - for a daunting tour of two tests and two Twenty20 internationals before heading southeast to Sri Lanka for the Twenty20 World Cup.
A month ago Hesson was unemployed, and on September 21 he leads New Zealand into a world cup.
He's been a busy man since being named as John Wright's replacement.
Selection meetings, talks with players, planning and generally coming to grips with his new role have all been a big part of his honeymoon period, but the question that keeps coming up is how to fix the batting; how to turn clearly talented batsmen from underperforming international cricketers to world beaters.
And while they would love world beaters, the cricketing public - fickle as they might be - would happily accept a side that could hold their head up high in international company.
On the evidence exhibited on the forgettable tour of the West Indies, that's some way off.
“You know, not everything has been going poorly,” he said this week.
“There's been some parts that have been going well and it's a matter of making sure we don't throw those away, but build on those areas as well as the areas we need to improve on.”
Confidence has long been a line used by the senior players in the side when quizzed about a lack of runs. If they could just build some confidence, so the theory goes, runs would follow.
Hesson agrees, but his thoughts on the matter are far more analytical than a catchphrase or word of the week.
“With any skill in cricket, or any sport, confidence is crucial,” he said.
“Confidence allows you to free your body to move properly. We would have seen examples of guys not moving that well in the West Indies; a lot of that is just the confidence and keeping the mind nice and clear.”
He said that with a clear mind, empty of lingering doubts and negative thoughts, batsmen could concentrate solely on the next ball.
“. . . And you have to be able to do that ball after ball after ball, over and over again.
“It sounds simplistic, but it's just making sure guys are in the right frame of mind to back the skills they have so from that we can generate some consistency.”
Hesson believed routine was important too, but it had to be the right routine.
“These guys put hours and hours into their game. Through doing that, you groove in certain methods and it's making sure that when they get out in the middle it's natural and they respond to the ball rather than having too many things clutter their mind and affect the decisions they make.”
Hesson was hopeful that he and the new-look support team, which now features former Canterbury coach and batting specialist Bob Carter, would offer something fresh and challenge the thinking of even the most established New Zealand batsmen.
But don't expect Hesson to carry underperforming players in his sides. He was keeping a close eye on New Zealand Cricket's winter training programme this week at Lincoln.
He is big on depth and that does not just mean the next tier of younger players coming through at domestic level.
For Hesson, no one's out of contention. You do the work, score the runs and take the wickets, you'll be considered.
“There's obviously a high performance plan and we need to have . . . a number of players pushing for places,” he said. “Another part of that is a number of players that have been used in the Black Caps and have been excluded at times and some of those guys have been our best players."
And that's not just lip service, as Jeetan Patel knows. The 32-year-old Wellington offspinner was selected to go to India despite playing just one test since New Zealand last toured India two years ago.
James Franklin was also recalled 18 months after the last of his 27 tests.
So while most New Zealand cricket fans might be still pining the loss of Wright, especially after New Zealand Cricket worked so hard to lure him into the role, they should at least be safe in the knowledge that Hesson, though light on top level experience, has already given this role plenty of thought and is determined to make his tenure a successful one.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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