Hesson could do a Hammett - if new captain plays part

IAN SNOOK
Last updated 08:27 01/02/2013

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OPINION: The coming English series will determine if New Zealand coach Mike Hesson, perhaps the most vilified man in the country in the past couple of months, is capable of winning over an angry public and reinventing himself as cricket's version of the Hurricanes' Mark Hammett.

All of the New Zealand rugby public are aware that Hammett, in an effort to change the culture at the Hurricanes franchise, was happy to offload All Blacks Andrew Hore, Piri Weepu and Ma'a Nonu, while at the same time losing Neemia Tialata and Hosea Gear, the latter leaving in support of his mates.

The Wellington public, in particular, went into an angry frenzy, not recognising or believing that this was for the good of the franchise, while Hammett remained resolute and got on with his job.

Big decisions are often met with derision.

However, what Hammett had up his sleeve was Conrad Smith, the country's best leader, who was consistently the best player in New Zealand in 2012.

Smith gave the franchise a great kick- start and in the blink of an eye Jason Eaton, Dane Coles and Victor Vito hit the ground with a renewed vigour and purpose, and out of the rubble rose youngsters TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett and Brad Shields.

Although the team finished the Super Rugby season in eighth position, the same as 2011, there was some remarkable rugby played and Hammett was able to improve both young and old squad members.

Hesson recognised early on that he had to make his big move, just as Hammett did at the end of the 2011 season.

With this in mind, he appointed Brendon McCullum as his new captain and, as had happened with Hammett, Hesson was now in the firing line.

However, he had boldly carried out what he thought was an absolute necessity and he would live by his decision.

Unfortunately for Hesson, McCullum is proving to be no Smith in producing consistent performances at a high level.

If McCullum cannot turn these performances around, sooner rather than later, he will be undermining his own confidence in a big way.

This could lead to him being a hesitant and reactive captain rather than the spontaneous and vibrant character he is today.

Ensuring McCullum plays at a high level will be Hesson's immediate goal.

Confidence arrives only after some positive performances, so all the issues surrounding McCullum need a lot of work.

He cannot keep standing in front of his troops and preaching a good story if he is not performing.

With Jesse Ryder doing a Gear and going off elsewhere, and Daniel Vettori constantly injured, it will be important that by the completion of the England series Hesson has a leader who is performing, experienced players who are standing up, and young players making rapid improvements in the way that Hammett achieved with the Hurricanes.

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Surely by now he knows who can handle a role in the side and who can't, and we will see some consistency in selection as he sets about righting the ship.

With the likelihood of Ross Taylor, New Zealand's best batsman, returning to the crease and the return of in-form bowler Tim Southee not far away, Hesson may well find some luck bouncing his way. Hammett had to learn fast. Can Hesson do the same?

Everyone is waiting expectantly. It would be great to produce performances that silence the Barmy Army.

Ian Snook is a former Taranaki and Central Districts captain. He is one of only four men to have played more than 100 games for Taranaki.

- Taranaki Daily News

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