Friday, March 30, 2012

XI lessons from a New Zealand summer (2)

Part 2: Accelerating through the middle order

In Part 1 I took a look back at the performances of the New Zealand top order through the 2011/12 season and discussed the key issues facing New Zealand cricket.

In the second of a three-part feature I move away from on field performance and reflect on matters concerning (and perpetuated by) the fans.

5. Fans turn quicker than Vettori: When Craig McMillan, along with a number of other prominent sports “journos” and emotional “fans”, berated Jesse Ryder for costing New Zealand a T20I series victory against South Africa I began to question whether I had returned to the United Kingdom and was listening to the vitriol of football tragics after England’s exit from another high-profile tournament.

Macca’s rant came across as little more than a publicity grab and he would do well to consider the glasshouse in which he lived as an international cricketer and stop casting stones. However, it was “fans” (I’ll leave you to decide why I’ve included the quotation marks) that made me question the importance of our great game.

The proliferation of social media and internet-based discussion has allowed fans the opportunity to discuss the performances of their sporting stars instantly, whilst hiding behind the anonymity the platform offers. After a poor outing I no longer listen to talkback radio - every couch critic wants his two cents and his pound of flesh – no matter the lack of logic in the argument, heated as it often is. The 140 character rants on Twitter have at times this season caused me to step away from my iPad – how many of us would appreciate the same ridicule, without context, of the effort we put into our nine-to-five?

Many of us have love-hate relationships with our cricketing personalities – others simply love to hate them. Whatever your opinion, most fans are just that – they love their teams and want nothing more but for them to do well – sorry, WIN! The paradox is that a minority have a confused way of showing it. 

Have a read of my full thoughts – Fans – critic or assassin?

6. Schizophrenic selection policies: Casting aside jokes about an Aussie lawn bowling administrator selecting a Kiwi cricket side, Kim Littlejohn and coach John Wright set New Zealand on the right path early but once South Africa arrived they seemed to revert to type. The tour to Zimbabwe was as expected and in the famous test victory against Australia in Hobart they showed the foresight to include young left-armer Trent Boult against a top order dominated by left handers. Similarly, the current selectors made a decision those before them wouldn’t and discarded Reece Young – a strong wicketkeeper but not worth his place with the bat at the highest level. However, the surprise was his replacement – B J Watling. After being selected for the Zimbabwean tour as a batsman, Watling, who doesn’t keep at domestic level, was thrust into the position occupied by little more than stop gaps since McCullum’s body deserted him. Some tidy glove work and a maiden test century silenced the critics but he is still largely untested after getting injured prior to South Africa arriving on our shores.

When the squads were selected for the home limited overs internationals, Wright and Littlejohn showed they were true to their word by picking performers from domestic cricket with six debutants for the Zimbabwe series. Hira, Nethula and Latham looked the most likely and will be seen again on a regular basis.

However, selections for the South African series were a little more random. Zimbabwean born Colin de Grandhomme, a T20 specialist, was selected for the ODI series and then Jesse Ryder was rushed back for the deciding T20I match after a couple of brisk knocks at Plunket Shield level. He was them lambasted for ‘losing’ the series whilst top scoring, but we’ve covered that already. The questionable part was not bringing him back but inferring he wasn’t up to test match cricket – though long term that may be the best thing for a talented, but troubled, young man. Behind the stumps, Kruger van Wyk has taken his chances against the big boys from his home land though Watling should still have the inside running for the tour to the Windies.

Like many, I am still perplexed at the logic of selecting Rob Nicol to open the batting against the best pace attack in world cricket; especially given the coach was a quality test opener. Replacing him with Daniel Flynn, another middle order batsman, for the final test was equally flawed though his technique has undergone a major overhaul since his last international outing. Another Northern Districts’ stalwart, Brent Arnel is a fine domestic player but test cricket is a step too far – further debate would be a waste. After the first two tests Tim Southee suffered the same fate as Reece Young – dropped from the test side when others had seemed oblivious to his poor form. Southee has the potential to be a great Black Cap but the potential tag can become a noose as time goes on – with luck his exclusion will give the young quick a chance to reassess his recent performances and make the necessary changes to excel at the highest level. Whilst I could profess how I thought the recall of Mark Gillespie was long overdue – I didn’t, but Messrs Wright and Littlejohn made a masterstroke with the Wanganui born tyro. 

The jury is still out on where Wright and Littlejohn are headed, but it has to be a step forward from Turner, Nash et al. With the increasing depth in the New Zealand game we would do well to begin to look at all cricket’s forms from different perspectives – it’s time to select specialists and allow players the opportunity to grow as cricketers before being asked to compete in all three formats.

7. Heir apparent found for Wads: A lion-hearted cricketer who put family ahead of personal ambition and left the international game at the peak of his powers, Iain O’Brien made his international commentary debut in the third test against South Africa at his beloved Basin Reserve – (Sir) Brian Waddle (the cricketers’ SBW) called his 200th test in the same match. Coincidentally, he called his first at the spiritual home of New Zealand cricket too.

O’Brien’s knowledge and well-considered opinion through the late rounds of New Zealand’s Plunket Shield have uplifted domestic cricket – he has the rare talent of offering snippets from the inner sanctum without ostracising ‘the common man’. The powerbrokers in New Zealand radio would be advised to groom him to assume Waddle’s mantle when he vacates the chair. With England here in 2013 their UK contemporaries would do well to get O’Brien behind the microphone for some home grown insights – his star is on the rise. It’s a pity for Kiwi cricket fans that he’s currently en route to his second home in England.

8. Kiwis want an international leg spinner: It’s been a long wait for New Zealand to produce that rare gem – an international leg spinner. When Messrs Wright and Littlejohn gave Tarun Nethula his opportunity for the ODI series against Zimbabwe, Kiwi cricketing tragics held their collective breathe. Not since Jack Alabaster’s test career, spanning 16 seasons but only 22 tests, has New Zealand produced a leggie worth his spot.

Nethula's 30 overs against the two African nations went for over fives but he snaffled four wickets and would have had more but for some uncharacteristically poor Black Caps catching. He was more steady than spectacular but many were watching through rose tinted glasses – the second coming of S K Warne he was not. However, with selectorial patience, and time, Nethula has the ability to assume the role of New Zealand’s second spinner across all formats – no mean feat when Daniel Vettori leads the pack, though he no longer remains an attacking threat at test level.

Next up:
• Part 3: Finishing the innings with the bunnies

If you missed Part 1: Opening up at the top of the order, have a read.

Did I get it wrong? Will Wright and Littlejohn even be around at the start of the next home summer? Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi. If you enjoyed it, sign up for email alerts for future pieces from A Cricketing Buddha.

5 comments:

  1. Re 7: If UK fans can listen to Capt Innuendo when he's commentating in NZ, you guys can listen to him when he's commentating over here. You get used to the sleep deprivation after a while. Honestly. My flying purple unicorn says I'm fine now.

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  2. If he gets a gig that plays on digital radio I'll definitely be in for a listen. It's a pity for NZ fans though that he's not commentating on games at home as he was 'special' on his international debut in the box - he even broke out a 3 piece suit and tie for the occasion.

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    1. I saw the photo he posted on Twitter - was v impressed. I want a summer dress in the same pattern as that tie!

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  3. Batsmen at the international level have now sorted out Vettori's variations in the air. Unless the turn, and bite are back, he can't be the threat he once was. I guess his back troubles have affected his effort on his delivery and in turn have created this lack of bite off the pitch.
    Along with his variations in trajectory, he has to give it a rip and put in more effort from the shoulders in order to be more dangerous.
    He has to be in the team as a main wicket-taker. Not for a moment am I suggesting Dan be dropped now, but it's time he started picking wickets. That's been another problem this summer. With only a maximum of any two pacers performing every match, the spinner had to pick wickets. And all the pitches did offer some turn.

    Also, I genuinely believe Reece Young is a fantastic prospect for the tests. His keeping is top class and he looked very, very tidy with the bat in Australia. ( I thought I am entitled to keep him my first choice keeper, especially after you called Guptill 'a work in progress' after so many failures in the tests) Kruger van Wyk has taken his opportunities with both hands, but I would send Reece Young to the Caribbean this winter.

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  4. Vettori - as a limited overs container he is without peer, but in tests we really next someone who is capable of running through a side. I love the man, but he longer has the ability to do that. Part of the problem is that he spent so long in his career being the only threat in our attack and so batsmen shut up shop against him - for a spinner to be really successful, the best players need to be trying to score off them. Unfortunately, there are no other serious options at the moment. We have a number of limited overs spin options but at test/first level the cupboard is bare.

    Reece Young was hard done by, but he ws only ever a stop gap for a couple of years until someone better came along. His glovework is pretty good but I don't think he has the batting ability to play as a true 'kepper batsman and so he will always miss out to a lesser gloveman who can hold a blade - sad reality of modern cricket. He was likely omitted due toi the lack of runs the top/middle order scored - similar to Monty Panesar for the second SLvENG test.

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