It's time to do something about state of NZ cricket

BY JEREMY CONEY
Last updated 05:00 03/04/2010
Chris Martin and Tim Southee
CHRIS HILLOCK/Waikato Times
OUT AND OVER: Chris Martin (lef) and Tim Southee walk off Seddon Park after the second test ended with Southee's dismissal.

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OPINION: The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of end-of-season things.

The medley that is the Black Caps played some vibrant and weak-kneed cricket, held its own in the ODI format, traded Twenty20 matches with Australia and affected caprice throughout the sterner tests.

New Zealand clung to a Pakistan side that has since imploded, remained a stronger unit than Bangladesh but were levelled by an Australian team that was more workmanlike than irresistible.

We've not beaten Australia since 1993. Nor any other major side recently. We've not beaten South Africa in a series since I can recall. In the last five years, discounting Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, we have lost every test overseas.

In the same period, we have won just one home series. That, to a listless West Indies team, who have since gone past us in the world rankings.

Our game, it seems, is coming up a bit short.

Despite fitful resistance and the odd piece of potency with bat or ball, a fug of inevitability hovered over our play throughout the Australian series.

Occasionally, brief sun bursts appeared from a Vettori, or Taylor or McCullum, but mostly, it looked a bit limited.

The one chance to nail Australia in Hamilton resulted in some fluffing of lines. End of game.

Ever the pragmatist, Australia dug in and efficiently dismantled New Zealand bit by bit.

Our test cricket lives in the highlights. We don't play like the grizzled Katich. We play big shots, or defend warily. No smooth middle-game appears yet.

No-one commanded a rock-like defence that rebuffed bowlers so they sought answers elsewhere. And few bowlers possessed the lively, durable interrogation that sent batsmen scuttling into themselves and their castle of despair.

When you lack bowling, you must bat out of your trousers. If neither functions adequately, the result is gentle submission.

Given our current status on the world pecking order and that we can no longer attract better nations regularly; and allowing for similar results from the system that produces cricketers, what sort of expectations might a fellow hold dear and whisper into the pillow at night?

Identifying our weaknesses isn't difficult. We have a burgeoning middle order but no reliable top three. And a conclave of seamers do not two strike bowlers make. How we correct those situations is not so simple.

The first option I guess, is we just wait. This model relies on our daily beavering away at development until the next special player emerges.

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OVER the years, New Zealand has produced many fine players and combative sides. A glance toward our history references that our better teams emerge when a group of effective home-based players merge with one or two superior New Zealanders.

The 1949-60 era convened Reid and Sutcliffe; from 1969 till the mid-70s a competitive band contained Turner; the 80s enjoyed a fully developed Hadlee and a maturing Crowe; the late 90s and early noughties, Fleming, Cairns and troops. Our latest superior players, Bond and Vettori, have been somewhat reduced by injury.

However, there's something inherently haphazard (perhaps casual?) about relinquishing our cricket development to waiting for the chosen one.

Another option is to improve our method of priming identified talent. Broaden in scope and range what we already do and do it better. I recall reading one of those glossy corporate five-year plans that boldly claimed we would go to places no other country would go.

And, at the end of it, we would boast of the most scientific preparation for our players in the world.

Not so. We simply don't have those resources and we can't match those of, say, India.

Maybe we could send our players somewhere better? Specialised places. Places that demand more from cricketers, teach more, help them grow more.

The county system helped Turner and Crowe and a lot of West Indian players, but there are plenty of options around the world.

What is it to be? Keep doing what we're doing? Put everything into improving it? Send them somewhere? Or some of all three?

It's time, the walrus said, to do something.

Maybe we could widen the talent pool. Terry Jarvis once said to me, "we need a leggie, so let's buy a couple".

- © Fairfax NZ News

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