NZ Cricket has got itself into a right pickle

GEOFF LONGLEY
Last updated 05:00 12/12/2012
David White
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ

UNDER THE PUMP: New Zealand Cricket CEO David White faces a grilling from the media over the handling of the Black Caps captaincy saga.

David White
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ
MISUNDERSTANDING: David White says he has been assured by senior management that Shane Bond's account of events is inaccurate.

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OPINION: Is it just coincidence that since Chris Doig and Martin Snedden were chief executives of New Zealand Cricket their replacements have presided over a series of unmitigated disasters culminating in the Ross Taylor debacle?

While the innovative Doig and the safe hands of Snedden had significant issues to deal with during their tenures - think Chris Cairns/Glenn Turner (Doig) and bombings in Pakistan (Snedden) - they are predominantly remembered positively for generally sound decision-making accompanied by some solid Black Caps performances.

Since Snedden departed in 2007, it has largely been a sorry spiral.

The Taylor saga is the latest as far as flawed decision-making from NZC is concerned.

One ill-advised decision has often followed another surrounding the shop-window Black Caps and, in the process, there is no stability, which has contributed to a poorly performed team and a disenchanted public.

Several former high-profile New Zealand players spoken to have been horrified by the recent chain of events but are reluctant to go public and sling more mud.

Working backwards from today, inexperienced international coach Mike Hesson's issues with Taylor's leadership have seen him blunder in trying to remove him just days before a test series against Sri Lanka last month.

Almost as soon as the incident became public last week the contradictions began to emerge.

NZC's director of cricket, Australian John Buchanan, reportedly had gone in to bat for Taylor and his leadership.

Where does this leave Buchanan now, effectively shunted sideways by chief executive David White, who has backed Hesson's decision-making?

When Hesson was appointed with Buchanan on that selection panel, after John Wright walked away, it seemed that Hesson would be Buchanan's boy, but already things have gone awry.

It is difficult to pass full judgment on Taylor's captaincy because on-field tactics are just one aspect of the game.

But NZC had already invested over a year in Taylor as Daniel Vettori's successor, and while the results were a mixed bag they were nothing different from other rookie captains and his personal performances were getting better.

Stephen Fleming was no champion captain when he was appointed Black Caps skipper after the last leadership coup when Lee Germon was cruelly cast aside in 1997.

Doig surrounded him with a strong coach, Steve Rixon, and manager, John Graham, who supported him until he learned the ropes.

Why could Taylor not at least have been given to the end of this season to display his wares and not have his tenancy terminated abruptly? Had Wright still been the coach this tragic turn of events would never have unfolded.

That is the next step back in the whole saga. Wright left in April after he and Buchanan had philosophical differences in how the team should operate. Wright arrived as a white knight in the midst of the "last crisis" to strike NZC in late 2010 when they went a record 13 consecutive one-dayers without a win, including four losses to Bangladesh.

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Then CEO Justin Vaughan begged Wright to help the Black Caps in their hour of need, Wright responded and the side appeared to be making some progress, unexpectedly reaching the semifinals of the World Cup in early 2011, beating Australia to square a test series at Hobart late last year and holding superpower South Africa to a 1-0 test series loss in New Zealand.

But, during the interim, Vaughan had also secured former Australian coach Buchanan on a four-year deal above Wright, and when the pair's ideologies clashed someone had to go.

The board sided with Buchanan over Wright and so a good man was lost.

That was not before Wright was sold down the river without paddles on a disastrous farewell tour of West Indies in July when NZC refused, because of budgetary constraints, to give the side any warmup preparation in the Caribbean.

The flow-on effects from that have been significant, with out-of-form players struggling to regain their best in the tours that followed.

There was also the shabby treatment in mid-year of some of NZC's loyal administrative staff in Christchurch, who were made redundant when it was decided the base should be shifted to Auckland, where White lives.

Wright was only approached after another botched experiment from the top of NZC when Vettori was given an all-powerful position backed by "performance director" Roger Mortimer with Mark Greatbatch also in the mix.

That came after the Andy Moles coaching fiasco when NZC, who appointed him after John Bracewell, bowed to player pressure after Moles' deficiencies were disclosed. The Moles mess can again be sheeted home to NZC, who struggled to attract a quality candidate.

Perhaps the warning signs about the quality of decision-making and lack of trust started when Vaughan said speedster Shane Bond could play in the rebel Indian Cricket League without affecting his Black Caps career in 2007 but then flip-flopped when pressured by the ICC.

Brendon McCullum was viewed as such a disruptive influence several seasons ago that he lost the vice-captaincy status and other senior players, such as Taylor, were given greater responsibility.

Few public reasons were given but McCullum's stocks were then restored and he was then involved in a rather unedifying public contest last year over the leadership which eventually went Taylor's way.

To be fair, McCullum accepted the unpalatable outcome for him and got back to the business of playing.

However cliques reportedly exist, with senior players tending to side with McCullum, which left Taylor in a tough position under the new regime.

The hand of the New Zealand Cricket Players Association is ever present, as is their right, but some are uncomfortable about the amount of sway that organisation and chief executive Heath Mills carries.

Board chairman Chris Moller has remained mute through the latest fiasco when leadership was called for. His silence is damning.

Other signs are not encouraging either, with the latest board appointment Greg Barclay having close personal links with White.

The mysterious departure of Robbie Hart, off the NZC board around the time of the annual meeting, which was never publicly acknowledged, leaves it without anyone with top-level playing experience.

It is not the first time NZC has been in complete chaos.

In 1994-95 the board, which was racked by vested parochial interests, dissolved itself.

The Hood report was commissioned, instituted as a whole, and NZC under Sir John Anderson was viewed as a role model for bigger nations.

Things are fast reaching another crisis.

Cannot the politicking and deceit now be put aside for the good of the game in New Zealand and the people charged with running it respect that?

Otherwise cricket's status as the country's No 1 summer sport will continue to be eroded and make NZC even more of a shambolic outfit and laughing stock - if that is possible.

Perhaps someone like Snedden needs to be sounded out about returning in a consultant capacity. That would at least restore some integrity to the ailing organisation.

- The Press

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