OPINION: Black Caps coach Mike Hesson has grabbed plenty of attention in his first seven months in charge and as New Zealand get set to tackle England over three tests, it's a good chance to check on his progress.
I think there has been progress, particularly in the Twenty20 and one-day arenas. It's the five-day game where New Zealand has the most work to do and this will be another difficult assignment against a very good side.
Hesson has been something of a polarising figure, not just on the cricket scene but in New Zealand sport in general. He seemed to come out of nowhere to get the appointment and wasn't slow to make some big moves.
Not everyone has agreed with them and there's been no lack of public debate.
The Ross Taylor captaincy axing was the most obvious but it was more about the method of removal than the action itself that agitated people and Hesson's own bosses must take some responsibility for that.
It's a coach's prerogative to surround himself with people he's comfortable with - starting with his assistant coaches, his skipper and ultimately his players and how he uses them.
So Hesson has done just that - and I think he had to. The state of the Black Caps that he inherited meant the game here couldn't tolerate more of the same. It was time for some tough calls and he was prepared to make them.
When a coach goes down that path, he needs some time to see if he is heading in the right direction.
There have been some disasters but also some encouraging signs and Hesson needs more time for us to make a clear cut judgment on his abilities. It might only be 18 months or so before we can really sit back and judge Hesson. It almost certainly won't come in these three tests, in which New Zealand are going to be under the hammer.
Hesson has probably had the toughest introduction of any New Zealand coach employed over the past 10 years. He's taken on three of the toughest tours - to India, Sri Lanka and South Africa and now hosts a very good English side.
The test win in Sri Lanka was notable, as was the ODI series victory in South Africa. The tangles with the English over the short versions of the game have been intriguing, given the roller- coaster results. Ultimately they proved frustrating, with New Zealand twice failing at the finish line.
A lack of consistency remains the Black Caps' greatest flaw. That's nothing new - it's dogged this team and their coaches for the past eight to 10 years. Turning a team that is capable of some one- off brilliance into a much more consistent outfit remains Hesson's greatest challenge.
But let's be real - the up-and-down performances are a reflection of where New Zealand are at right now and it shows in our rankings.
Our test game has gone backwards rapidly over the past decade and that's hugely disappointing. I think the money the International Cricket Council have given New Zealand to invest in "A tours" needs to be used wisely and can certainly bolster our test depth.
Brendon McCullum's positive attitude is starting to come through in his captaincy and the benefits of batting him down the order are showing - another Hesson call that has real merit.
And after his century in Napier, there's a feeling that Taylor has been able to work his way past the ugly situation that engulfed him before and after Christmas. I maintain that Taylor the batsman is more important to New Zealand than Taylor the captain. I'm just as adamant that his best years are about to unfold.
If New Zealand can find an opening partnership to survive the demands of test cricket, then the Black Caps could have a reasonably potent top order.
Throw in our rapidly developing test bowling ranks and there is plenty of promise.
I think there is also a healthy dose of reality. Hesson and his team aren't kidding themselves - they realise where they stand in the international game and seem to relish the challenges.
The camp appears happy and technically Hesson looks sound, while his assistants Bob Carter (batting) and Shane Bond (bowling) have plenty on their plate.
If there is one area that has disappointed me over the last six months or so, it has been the drop in fielding standards.
I find this inexcusable. New Zealand mightn't have the best batsmen or bowlers in the world, but the Black Caps have generally more than held their own in the fielding department down the years. It's been a strength of our game and a key to punching above our weight.
Some of the sloppy stuff we saw in South Africa has carried on at home this summer and that needs to be arrested, particularly over the coming weeks.
There's no reason New Zealand can't be in the top couple of teams when it comes to fielding.
I sense a need for some specialist help in this area. I reckon former Auckland player James Pamment, who is working with Bay of Plenty and Northern Districts, could certainly offer some improvement.
So Hesson has made a reasonable start - a couple of outstanding results pepper some mediocre efforts, while the tests in South Africa remain a scar that will take some time to heal.
Mike Hesson's Black Caps record
Tests: P6 W1 L5
ODIs: P9 W3 L6
T20s: P14 W4 L 10
Overall: P29 W8 L21
- Simon Doull is a former Black Cap
- © Fairfax NZ News
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