Friday, August 10, 2012

West Indies tour review 2012 (3)

Part 3: Issues, opportunities and an Olympic pause

Issues and opportunity encapsulate all that is New Zealand cricket and its cricketers - the problem is that the opportunities seem to morph into issues. Throughout the tour old mistakes were repeated ad nauseum whilst new ones were created. That the most engrossing part of a long tour was an Olympic final says it all…

Hiding behind a night watchman
I may be in the minority with my views but I doubt it. Batsmen are selected in a cricket side to bat, not watch a bowler who has toiled hard at his own craft deny the opposition at the end of a day’s play. Is a batsman not more capable of keeping his wicket than others for whom the willow is a secondary tool? And in New Zealand’s case, what does a night watchman protect – don’t the returns of those they shield make the benefits negligible? International newcomer Neil Wagner assumed the role in the Caribbean – is a debutant fast-medium bowler the best choice?

For mine, New Zealand’s batsmen need to step up and do the role they’re selected for – they have the best chance to survive the final overs of a long day and work with the established batsman to do the same. Twice in the first test Wagner assumed Kane Williamson’s batting position so the young man could stay in the shed ready for the next day. First time out Guptill fell short of his hundred at the end of the day and Williamson had to enter the fray anyway – if batsmen are so valuable a commodity why didn’t a second night watchman come out?

The real confusion is that Williamson had the ability to combat Morkel, Steyn and Philander when South Africa toured at the end of the summer, so why not Narine, Roach and Rampaul at the end of a day? In the second test Wagner entered the battle instead of McCullum – the argument doesn’t just apply to New Zealand’s heir apparent. If New Zealand is to be become a competitive unit, in any format, it’s important players understand their roles – let’s start with the batsman getting out in the middle.

Start converting; converting starts
In 10 matches on tour New Zealand batsmen passed fifty on 14 occasions – only once did they raise three figures. Ross Taylor told ESPNcricinfo that “this hasn't been the problem in the last couple of years; this has been a problem with New Zealand cricket for the last 10-15 years now”. For mine, he’s missed the point – while the current team should learn lessons from the past they shouldn’t provide an excuse in the present.

For New Zealand to lift themselves out of the second tier of cricketing nations, it’s important they bat time and put large scores on the board. On many occasions the top order have shown admirable application only to revert to type – they show glimpses of both determination and the ability to build an innings. To simply to throw it away constantly seems a waste – the hard work regularly brings loose change but it’s not making millionaires.

Given the playing pedigree of the outgoing coach, like many New Zealand fans, I expected the top order would develop a harder edge in their attitude during his tenure – can Mike Hesson affect a change? 

All in a spin about nothing?
Daniel Vettori has been among New Zealand’s most influential cricketers for the past 16 seasons – even without context his statistics speak for themselves. In 112 test matches cricket’s Harry Potter sits second on New Zealand’s leading wicket takers behind only Sir Richard Hadlee, with 360 scalps. Since 1997 it has been unthinkable to name a New Zealand test side without him, but how much longer will that continue to be the case?

Will Vettori’s absence from the final test of the West Indies series signal the start of the end of an extraordinary career? If it’s not preparation for the final curtain call; surely the seeds have been sown? Vettori is a fantastic defensive bowler but batsmen need to be enticed to attack traditional finger spinners – drift, turn and drop draw batsmen into false shots at test level. Through age, injury, workload and an abundance of limited overs cricket, a Vettori delivery is unlikely to bounce, spit, and “rip a glove” as it once did. Is he still worth his place in the test side as a spinner or is he simply the default option? His bowling analysis since 2009 points towards the latter:


His contribution with the bat on the other hand (during the same period):


If Vettori is to remain a test player, it should be as a batsman who bowls, not the other way – at least in time. His continued inclusion would allow New Zealand a back stop while another spinner can be groomed to step up to international level. The problem is that test spinning options are rare on the ground, a situation highlighted in the final test when leg spinner Tarun Nethula was overlooked in favour of an all seam attack – a quartet minus the experienced Chris Martin and with a total of just 29 test caps between them. 

Nethula stands out as the most likely candidate but he still seems a long way off and is likely only in the mix because as a leggie he holds extra appeal. Roneel Hira, like Nathan McCullum, has been pigeon holed as a limited overs specialist and was not a regular first-class fixture for Auckland in 2011/12 – his move to Canterbury for the upcoming domestic season will hopefully provide more regular opportunities. Off spinner Jeetan Patel is the best equipped but he seems on the outer with New Zealand cricket. He has been a revelation at Warwickshire and is one of the most wholehearted cricketers on the New Zealand domestic scene, but at 32 how much more can he learn that would transform his success at test level? His inclusion in the side to tour India may be his final chance – even if he’s successful will he be retained?

On second thought, maybe we just take the more travelled road and keep the status quo?

Trent Boult
Having just turned 23, Northern Districts’ Trent Boult looks like he belongs in a boy band not an international cricket team – opponents make the same assumption at their peril. The Sabina Park test was only Boult’s fourth outing, his opportunity coming at the expense of New Zealand’s premier fast bowler; 69 test veteran, Chris Martin.

With Daniel Vettori sent home with an abductor injury, Boult joined an all-pace quartet with only 29 test caps between them. Many thought he would be given the opportunity in the first test of the series though injury curtailed his ascension. Even if fit, it is likely he would have been overlooked for South African debutant Neil Wagner – after a four year wait he seemed to have pulled at the selectors’ heartstrings.

Unlike his peers, Boult regularly produces wicket taking deliveries and can move the ball both off the deck and in the air early on. He struggles to get the same movement with the older ball, but he’ll learn as he develops. Likewise, if he is to be a genuine new ball option he needs to find an extra yard of pace, but that should come naturally as he matures and plays more cricket. Boult has the ability to fulfil the potential everyone hoped James Franklin would when he debuted for the Black Caps, if he can secure a regular spot. Much will rely on whether new coach Mike Hesson continues with Chris Martin or if he believes his number is up, at 37 years old. However, it may be Neil Wagner who locks down the place Boult covets – Hesson coached him at Otago and may choose to stick to what he knows early on.

There is sport outside of cricket
When was the last time a cricket match was stopped so those in the stadium could watch another sporting event? At Jamaica’s Sabina Park on Saturday that’s exactly what unfolded. In the midst of the London Olympics, the tiny island nation has just celebrated Emancipation Day and is building up to the 50th anniversary of Jamaican Independence Day – local patriotism is to the fore.

On the third afternoon of the second test, the final drinks break was brought forward by a few minutes, and extended, so the locals could watch two of their countrywomen compete for gold in London’s Olympic Stadium. Jamaican sprinters Veronica Campbell Brown and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce were about to do battle in the women’s 100 metre final and everyone wanted a glimpse of the pre-cursor to the Usain Bolt show.

The players sat in the middle of the ground as the Jamaicans raced to gold and bronze. The finish was greeted with the kind of rapturous scenes one used to see when the Calypso Kings went about their work during the Babylon era.

And then the cricket resumed…

New Zealand embarks on a short two test, two T20I tour to India in the next fortnight before the ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka in September and October. Hopefully, the trials undertaken and lessons learned in the Caribbean will translate into an upturn in their fortunes. A little silverware, or a victory, wouldn’t go amiss either…

Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. My love for the cricket of my countrymen will never wane but there seems little point in burying my head in the sand and ignoring their failings – I’d much rather praise them. Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi.

If you didn’t catch the first two parts, have a read:
• Part 1: Early doors on tour

• Part 2: There’s no “I” in team. Or is there?

Other West Indian pieces:
• New Zealand versus West Indies – by the book

• When the Calypso Kings ruled Babylon

• Florida’s T20 post-mortem

• Wherefore art thou, Chris? 


  1. Good commentary - hopefully Hesson can instil some discipline into these guys...

    1. Thank you - above all else the mental approach seems to be the biggest gap. Kiwi cricket sides are at their best when discipline is central to the team.

  2. Well Vettori is certainly over-hyped, looking at his stats. Loved the way the players stopped playing during the match just to watch the Olympics LOL.

    1. Over-hyped? Vettori has carried the NZ team for a long time - first as one of NZ's few attacking bowlers, then bowling 50 overs an innings while the seamers were flogged, and recently as a batsmen who holds the side together. Is it nearing the end? Yes - but there is little hype for hype's sake.

      The stopping of play was amazing. I can only imagine the scenes if the mens 100m (or 200m) final was playing during a day's play - the scenes in Jamaica were gold!


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