OPINION: Is the national cricket team in the hands of a couple of crackpots?
Australians John Buchanan and Kim Littlejohn have come up with their list of 20 players to be awarded New Zealand contracts.
The list lacks logic, contains sentiment and there is a sameness about many of the players but, oh well, we've come to expect the unusual from Buchanan and his sidekick.
How on earth fast-men Mark Gillespie and Neil Wagner were overlooked for contracts is beyond explanation, though Littlejohn tried his best to defend his work yesterday. Littlejohn is not an unpleasant man, but he is punching above his weight, and most things he says come out of a book and lack conviction.
Gillespie took 5-59 and 6-113 in the final two tests of the summer against South Africa. That was on the back of 30 wickets at 27.53 for Wellington.
Gillespie is the most intimidating bowler in the country, his mixture of bumpers and fast full outswingers a proven recipe for wickets, albeit at some cost. He is not everyone's cup of tea. He is 32 and injury-prone, but he had done enough.
Wagner is the most respected quick bowler in domestic cricket. He is a fine practitioner of reverse swing and four seasons on the trot has taken 40-plus wickets for Otago.
Cricket fans counted down the days till the South African-born left-armer became eligible for New Zealand like a young child does for Christmas Day.
Furthermore, Gillespie and Wagner have been picked for the upcoming test series against the West Indies ahead of Tim Southee and Trent Boult, both contracted yesterday.
Littlejohn denied their quick bowling quota lacked penetrative types. He said New Zealand fast bowling coach Damien Wright and Shane Bond had input into the makeup of the bowlers.
Outgoing coach John Wright had little or no input.
"He [Gillespie] is unlucky to miss out," Littlejohn said."Mark hasn't had a lot of cricket over the last two years so that is why we have taken a conservative approach.
"We've said: `OK, you've done well in two games but let's see you put some consistent performances together and prove to us you can back it up'. Look, he's unlucky. He does stick out."
Wagner needed to prove himself before he got any favours.
"He has taken 40-plus wickets in the last four seasons of domestic cricket but the message to Neil is he hasn't played any international cricket at this stage, so we want to see him establish himself as an international player, then the contract will come," Littlejohn said.
"We have rewarded his domestic performances with selection in the test team. But playing domestic cricket in New Zealand and playing international cricket against quality opposition is a big jump and we are waiting to see if he handles that jump."
James Franklin makes the cut despite presenting less of a case than the past two seasons when he was overlooked for a contract.
"James has lots of experience in Twenty20 and there is a World Cup coming up.
"We also see him helping young players in a mentoring role."
Also given contracts on flimsy grounds are Kyle Mills and Jacob Oram.
You get the impression they couldn't captain a row boat to Seatoun, but Littlejohn claims they have mentoring ability.
"Both guys have been strong servants of New Zealand cricket. They are coming into the twilight of their careers and we see them as mentoring young guys."
The lucky one is Andrew Ellis, a Canterbury allrounder who does not get the pulse racing. Littlejohn believes Ellis can play "all three forms" for New Zealand in the contract period.
Players on the list are ranked one to 20 and paid annual retainers accordingly. The highest ranked earns $181,000, plus match payments, while No 20 gets $73,000.
NZ contract list: Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Dean Brownlie, Andrew Ellis, Daniel Flynn, James Franklin, Martin Guptill, Chris Martin, Brendon McCullum, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Tarun Nethula, Rob Nicol, Jacob Oram, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Kruger van Wyk, Daniel Vettori, BJ Watling, Kane Williamson.
- © Fairfax NZ News