OPINION: As we look forward to the cricket season ahead, I will assess this summer's objectives and the personal required to put the New Zealand cricket team's global ranking in line with their talent. That may seem an odd statement considering an eighth position in all forms of the game for this current crop of players, but believe me, the talent is waiting and wanting to push through.
First up this summer we see a West Indian team that is searching to translate its short form skill to the test arena. NZ is ranked below them in tests but a victory opportunity could present itself in Dunedin as a "drunk" West Indian team (Clive Lloyd recently referred to the current team as this as a reason for their poor form, too drunk on T20) may struggle to get to grips with contrasting environments from their recent tour to India.
For good measure, the hamstring tear to Chris Gayle, who seems to be able to devour NZ bowling attacks at will, will buoy the NZ team and the chance to get back in familiar surroundings after a lengthy subcontinent stint puts NZ as favourites. The Wellington surface for the second test could well be too good for both teams and a draw beckons.
The one-day series will be an entirely different challenge and a tight result will ensure some riveting cricket over the festive season. A three-two outcome from the best-of-five series would see a tremendous first half of the summer as well as set the scene for the main event.
And now for the real test. India are playing an abbreviated tour on our shores in January and February.
The advantage for NZ here, though, is that India would have come off a tough tour to South Africa. We could do with our Tri Nations counterparts roughing up this wonderful group of players and then sending them off to us. A short tour of NZ and a laxidasical attitude like that adopted by England last summer, may present NZ with a chance to draw the two tests.
This would signify growth in our game and be an excellent result. Again, in the ODI series a tough three-two win would be superb but with our small grounds I shudder to think what will be a safe score in the ODI's and bowlers are going to need a tough constitution in this series.
The above results are what I believe the NZ players are capable of. But who is capable of delivering them for us? Much is made of Brendon McCullum, too much. I would like to see him bat at three in all forms of the game. His stats say that this is his best position and I have always felt McCullum is at his best when he leads from the front. He is a passionate man and seems to be misread too often in this country and we must get behind him as the leader of our cricket team. But he must also take the game front on and do it instinctively. Instinctive is what McCullum is.
I would delay Jesse Ryder's return till India, a team that he has an excellent record against. Martin Guptill will put pressure on Peter Fulton for the opener's role and the selectors must persevere with Hamish Rutherford as he finds his feet in International cricket. Ross Taylor is the premier batsman and will be looking to contribute heavily this summer as must Kane Williamson when he returns from injury.
Daniel Vettori will come back to give backbone to the attack but Ish Sodi should remain around the group to keep learning. The seam bowling stocks are in good shape with Tim Southee leading the attack. In Neil Wagner, NZ has a vital third seamer who displays all the right attributes.
Jimmy Neesham, Colin Munro and Corey Anderson are the most exciting talent we have and I look forward to them all playing in the same short format team. A big summer ahead and a chance to climb out of the depths of the cricket ranking wilderness.
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