Taylor stung after failing to juggle vipers

PHIL GIFFORD
Last updated 05:00 09/12/2012
Ross Taylor
Reuters
BACK IN ACTION: Ross Taylor is expected to turn out for his province Central Districts in the New Year.

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Ross Taylor's treatment by New Zealand cricket is a toxic mix of disloyalty, incompetence and callousness.

The results under Taylor, it's true, have been mediocre, but he's captaining a squad of mediocre talent, and in the circumstances, if the choice is between a world-class batsman (test average 43.57) and a coach with a record as thin as tissue paper, why would you go with the coach?

Taylor will find no consolation in the fact, but getting the captaincy right has been too big a challenge for any number of New Zealand teams.

Cricket, by its very nature a sport where individuals play in a group, rather than as a team, means a leader can sometimes be not so much herding cats, as juggling vipers.

The teams we all get misty-eyed about in cricket, the overachieving outfits of the 1980s, had more divisions and deep-seated enmities than a Labour Party caucus.

This was an outfit that in the third test against the West Indies in Christchurch in 1987, and I swear this is true, had the captain (Jeremy Coney) having to communicate on the field with his best player (Richard Hadlee) via the vice-captain (John Wright), so great was the animosity between Coney and Hadlee.

And here's the freaky thing. New Zealand won the test by five wickets, and Hadlee took six for 50 in the West Indies' first innings.

Coney may not, as they're claiming about Taylor, have had the dressing room, but New Zealand had the game in hand anyway.

Captains, naturally, rise and fall with coaches, so when Lee Germon was dropped for Stephen Fleming in 1996, it coincided with the arrival of Steve Rixon as national coach.

In passing, a former law student at Canterbury University says he really knew he'd moved from the North Island to a different sporting world in Christchurch when he saw a petition at the Bush Inn shopping centre to "back our Canterbury man" and reinstate Germon. Naively he asked the petition holder why there was an issue when another Cantabrian, Fleming, was now in charge. "Because the strings are being pulled by those pricks in Auckland," was the reply.

Things went well for a few years, but it'd be fair to say if there's one thing New Zealand's cricketers have never needed much encouragement to do, that's bag each other.

Astonishingly, they were almost actively encouraged to do so, in peer group sessions, where players would discuss each other's strengths and weaknesses.

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Nathan Astle says that when the sessions were supervised by Gilbert Enoka they didn't get personal, and concentrated on cricketing matters.

But when Enoka left during John Bracewell's time as coach, the gloves came off. For Astle the tipping point was when one of the younger players was chastised for smoking on the day of a game.

"We carried on talking about it and it didn't sit well with me. Where do we stop? Do we police guys' sexual behaviour? Do we ban guys who train in singlets because of the threat of UV rays? I had a big problem with sitting telling this guy how to live his life. Who were we to do that?"

Eventually Astle would be gone, not too much later so would Fleming, and the weird merry-go-round our international cricket is now on was triggered.

Changing captains is one thing, but losing your best batsman, Taylor, for a major tour in the process plunges new depths, even for New Zealand cricket.

*********

A small flurry of outraged emails arrived after last week's columns about why the All Blacks hate losing to the English.

Let me say to Nick, of New Plymouth, that rather than bigot, I think the word you really wanted to describe me was racist, although on that count I was attacking English rugby attitudes and people, not the whole race.

There is a distinction. To Karl, also from New Plymouth, you got me on my racial background, which four generations back goes Irish, Scots and Maori.

Now I know why I'm possibly subliminally anti-English. And to Michael, of Timaru, why would I be wiping egg off my face because of the result of the test? I wrote why the All Blacks hate to lose, and they lost.

- Sunday Star Times

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