Reason: New Zealand on the cusp of greatness

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 23/02/2014

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OPINION: John Wright said the other evening: "If you love your cricket, you're in for a hell of a good period. There is a serious group of players here. You're just starting to see it."

When the backroom fools of New Zealand cricket made Wright's position as coach untenable, they left him with the huge regret of what could have been. Wright had seen the young kids coming through. He had seen the future. And he had no doubt that this has the potential to be one of the great eras of New Zealand cricket.

So after a glorious summer of cricket, here are 10 questions to ponder if New Zealand is to reach the promised land.

1. Can New Zealand win the World Cup next year?

The answer is yes. They have home advantage and there may not be another team that bats as deep, with Tim Southee potentially coming in at number 10, even 11.

The big work in progress will be the death bowling. New Zealand have the men to take wickets with the new ball. Nathan McCullum is a wily operator in the middle.

But who will bowl with Southee when the willow is flying at the end? The answer could be as left field as the resurrection of Daniel Vettori, who can still do stingy on one leg. Wright adds, with a nod to Sachin Tendulkar: "And you have to have the drive.

"That's how you win World Cups, with drive and belief in the ability and balance of the side."

2. What should be done with Jesse Ryder?

Brendon McCullum would have felt let down after putting the arm round Ryder on his return.

The current management was right to boot the troubled one out but there is no doubt the Black Caps would be stronger at next year's World Cup with Ryder opening the batting with Guptill.

Wright has seen Ryder's demons and would organise a friend to mind him. Let Ryder serve his time and then bring him back for the warmup matches. The great coaches find a path for the troubled ones to walk along.

3. What will be New Zealand's World Cup team?

Injury is the unknown curse and may go a long way to determining the ultimate winners. I suspect Australia will be mighty strong and maybe the Asian sides not quite as dominant as usual. But all being well, New Zealand could look like this: Guptill, Ryder, Williamson, Taylor, B McCullum, Anderson, Ronchi, N McCullum, Vettori, Southee, McClenaghan with Neesham, Milne and Mills pushing hard. Don't rule out McCullum taking the gloves if the Black Caps look at Neesham's all-round ability to give them flexibility.

4. How high can New Zealand go in the world rankings?

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They should motor up the one-day rankings in the coming years but there is also no reason why they cannot aim to break into the top three in tests. It looks like South Africa have at last found a challenger for supremacy from Australia but the rest of the world is in transition. The West Indies are hopeless; England have been hiding a decline for three years; and India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are largely young, development teams. Top three is a realistic goal some time in the next five years.

5. Yes, but can New Zealand win away from home?

Given they could not beat Bangladesh on their own patch, it is becoming a huge problem.

Wright says a lot of New Zealand's recent confidence started with their bowling unit.

The batsmen now need to be part of that security, with Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson playing as well overseas as they do at home.

6. All very well, but who will open the innings?

Not many people noticed, but Peter Fulton had a decent tour of Bangladesh and is a very good slip catcher. That said there are clear technical (Fulton) and mental (Hamish Rutherford) deficiencies against the new ball. Glenn Turner and John Wright agree it is worth considering BJ Watling as an opener and giving the gloves to Derek de Boorder. Wright also believes 21-year-old Tom Latham already has the ability to play at the top of the order for his country.

7. While we are at it, who is the third seamer?

For now, it is Neil Wagner.

His stamina and attitude are everything a captain would want.

But someone among the young guns needs to push him.

Doug Bracewell is 23, Adam Milne is 21, Jimmy Neesham is 23.

Bracewell has an attitude problem and Neesham may well turn out to be a superb batsman who bowls a bit. New Zealand would love Milne to be the man.

England's best cricket in recent years has been when they have had three quicks at their peak, plus an all-rounder, each with a point of difference.

8. Does New Zealand need a top-line spinner?

Yes and that is why the coaches are giving 21-year-old Ish Sodhi as much experience as possible.

Australia (Warne, and now Lyon), India (Kumble and Harbajhan Singh) and England (Swann) have proved the value of a top spinner on modern pitches.

It is a tough road as a spin bowler in New Zealand but Sodhi has the talent to make it.

Swann was a very good junior cricketer and then kicked about in county cricket for far too long.

New Zealand do not want to make the same mistake with Sodhi.

9. Is McCullum the right man to lead the team?

This may seem like an odd question but it made me smile when many averred that McCullum had answered his critics. That rather depends on the criticism. I wrote earlier in the summer: "When McCullum can biff through the line on New Zealand's lifeless pitches, he is a champion." My criticism was that McCullum had a conflict of interests against India due to business, had a limited shelf life because of his chronic back, and had a poor overseas average because of technical deficiencies.

None of that has been answered.

I am not convinced more overseas test tours will prolong McCullum's career. As Wright said to me the other night: "He is a scrapper". Come next year's World, Cup New Zealand will want him up for the scrap like never before. Does he really need to go to the West Indies?

10. How do we get the crowds back?

Success on the pitch is the ultimate solution but there is much more that can be done.

Eden Park and Westpac Stadium are dreadful places to watch cricket. We need good cricket grounds to slash their admission prices, subsidised not by gate receipts but by TV money and the Indian pot. Catering at the grounds needs to be vastly improved.

This is a great, great country for food and drink - let's make it part of the cricket experience. And let's welcome back Christchurch.

They have gone without test cricket for far, far too long.

- Sunday Star Times

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