There’s nothing unique in penning one’s hopes for the year ahead though each list is distinctive. Different formats, numerous countries, international versus domestic – cricket has it all. My hopes are simple; there are few dreams of grandeur. That’s not to say they’re achievable, but long-term change always needs a first step – or a catch, a wicket or a determined innings.
1. New Zealand Cricket acts like a significant national organisation not a Mum and Dad business
Many ardent New Zealand fans pinned their final hopes for NZC on the shoulders of David White – his ascension to the role previously held by Justin Vaughan was seen as a significant step forward in the corridors of cricketing power. If the diabolical handling of the change in captaincy is any guide, a number of the game’s faithful may now be looking for another summer pastime.
Any organisation needs a strong structure and decisive leadership – NZC should be no different. Instead there appears to be a confusion of roles, a lack of accountability and a communications policy built on the premise that as cricket continues to lose its public profile the best way to overcome a crisis is simply to say as little as possible and hope the All Blacks steal the limelight, and the column inches.
There is talk of both a meeting of the minds of a number of former New Zealand captains and a full internal review of the management structure in the annals of power – whether either achieve any meaningful change should be the topic of heated debate – apathy and disillusionment means it is not. The hope is that money is not burned on ex-cricketers and management consultants clipping the ticket and adding a line to their CV – revenue is hard to come by and New Zealand’s sporting associations need to be aware of the limitations of their coffers. Any expenditure needs to show a discernible improvement within New Zealand Cricket – from the men seated at the mahogany table to those tasked with developing our next generation, and everyone in between.
Like any reasonable New Zealand Cricket supporter, I want to see results on the pitch, but I have the sense to realise that our place will never be at the summit of Everest. However, while we dwell in the back blocks of Eketahuna responsibility needs to be shared not just by a small
squad of our country’s best cricketers but those tasked with leading our whole game forward.
2. Jesse Ryder dons the black cap once more
Can one man change the fortunes of an international side and invigorate an apathetic public through his deeds with the willow?
Jesse Ryder may not be the silver bullet that’ll slay the beast and make all right with the world, but how many batsmen of international quality reside within our shores? It is questionable that there is a more naturally talented player in New Zealand cricket – regardless of past indiscretions or the stigma his presence seems to carry, we need him in the international ranks.
Ryder appears to have made some significant changes to the personal life, which is admirable and needed to come first for the young man. However, as a supporter I want him back in black as soon as he’s ready – New Zealand Cricket needs to do what it can to treat players as individuals, even in a team environment – one size will never fit all.
Minus the complications of a hectic personal life and in a team environment where his individuality is embraced, Ryder has thrived for Wellington. He is averaging a shade under 70, at more than a run a ball, in the Plunket Shield while his 380 runs in the HRV Cup is 140 clear of the next best – all with an average of 63 and a strike rate of 180! International cricket won’t afford the 28 year old the same leniency to dominate, but even a modicum of the success he has enjoyed on the domestic circuit would be a step in the right direction – we have so few players of international quality that every effort should be made to get the silver fern back upon his chest.
But why would he be in any hurry to re-join a set up that has been as dysfunctional off the pitch as on it?
3. Kane Williamson leaves the coloured clothing for a night on the town
Call me a broken record but KSW’s continued inclusion in limited overs cricket at international level is not benefitting anyone – not the individual, the team or New Zealand’s growth in the international arena. We have so few batsmen capable of building an innings with technical prowess as opposed to brute force and risks that often cross the line in the world of T20. Williamson needs to be given the time and the assistance to help him prosper in first class and test cricket – his foreseeable future should be free of the coloured garb.
My views shouldn’t be seen as a slight on the limited overs game but a realisation that for New Zealand to grow, test cricket needs to become a priority again – a two test “series” benefits no-one. Williamson is our best chance at finding a batsman to build an innings around on a regular basis – the shorter formats appear to stymy his development not assist it. When he’s learned his game, let him return to the limited overs’ arenas but for now his lot needs to be thrown into the purest form.
Does anyone remember Mark Richardson?
4. Ross Taylor completes his reintegration
KP did it; can Taylor enjoy the same success when he re-joins the national side?
Taylor’s worth to the New Zealand side is more significant than the South African (sorry, Englishman) – Pietersen is one of a number of English players that sit in the top deck of international batsmen, New Zealand don’t enjoy the same luxury.
Regardless of the way the captaincy debacle was handled by NZC, Taylor didn’t cover himself in glory either and I’d have liked to have seen him playing in South Africa, but that’s the view of a supporter not someone who was belittled in the public arena. For the sake of the New Zealand side, and those of us who need to be surgically removed from the couch, Taylor needs to return for the English series at home. He may never reach the level his potential suggests, and his technical and mental deficiencies seem ever present, but rank him alongside his team mates and he stands out like Morne Morkel playing the part of the seventh dwarf.
5. Tim Southee is left to concentrate on his individual performances
If the dressing room rumours are to be believed, Kane Williamson will assume the role of vice-captain for the test series in Africa, though in name only – he’ll play no real part in the leadership on the field.
Prior to a thumb injury in the Plunket Shield match against Wellington, Tim Southee was rumoured to be given the role. I have no doubt he’s developing as a leader in the New Zealand line up – he is undoubtedly the spearhead of our attack but that’s where it should end. Prior to the drawn series in Sri Lanka, Southee hadn’t played the full series in any of the previous three tours and his performances followed the trajectory of a yo-yo.
Southee has unquestionable talent and it would appear a strong presence within the national side, but it’s unfair to burden a young man who is still finding his feet at the top level with extra responsibility. The role should be little more than a figurehead so give it to someone else, or simply play without a structured deputy.
6. Women's cricket
Scoff, as many undoubtedly will, but cricket’s better half should be embraced. The women don’t expect to be at the forefront of our sporting consciousness but they deserve at least a mention. Peoples’ retorts generally centre on the Black Sox, extreme sport or any number of other “minority” sports, but I’m a cricket fan first and foremost – I want to see the game I love in the media regardless of the level. If Dan Carter hiccups it's the lead story on the news and a Woman's Weekly exclusive - that's supply and demand, but there should at least be room for scorecard highlights on a radio channel whose history is built on our great game.
Through the blog I write with Northern Districts’ Cricket I’ve had the opportunity to cover the Northern Spirit – they’ve freely completed profiles and done interviews for me and I’ve learned a lot. How many international sportsmen hold down a “real” job these days?
The New Zealand domestic competitions don’t even have a naming rights sponsor, at least as far as I can ascertain. If they do, the promotion of their brand has been non-existent. If they don’t, why not?
7. Vettori’s heir apparent comes to the fore
Vettori is an old man, at least his body is. Years of being New Zealand’s third, and fourth, seamer is catching up with him – he spent a decade being used as a stock bowler while his contemporaries were dispatched to all parts or joined a growing injury list.
The former captain is a fine cricketer, but injury and form mean his career at the top must be nearing its natural end. It has been a long time since Vettori spun a side out but are there any other options? We have plenty of second spinners in our ranks, but there is little to be gained by promoting one of that ilk to the top job. None of Nethula, Astle, Patel or Martin have the ability to dominate an opposing international attack – they seldom run through sides in the Plunket Shield, and isn’t that what one would expect?
I’ve spent the past year talking up all manner of Kiwi spinners and I’ve been widely ridiculed – quite right too. New Zealand need to invest in a young spinner, or a group of them – if we can’t develop a frontline spinner who can rip through domestic attacks then are we better to go with a part-timer who can wield the willow?
8. A little fight, please?
I’m a realist. New Zealand will never be the leader of the pack – unlike “the Brain” I see to point in trying to take over the world. But, and that’s a posterior the size of JLo after an eating binge, I always hope to see a perceptible pride in the cap and a fight that should embody every perpetual underdog.
Is it too much to ask for our national side to show the fortitude every New Zealand fan has had their hopes pinned on since the Steve Rixon era? Personnel and politics aside, Kiwi supporters just want to see their team be successful, or at least be seen to fight – I have no doubt they do but that's not always the perception.
Note: I penned this piece prior to the start of the South African test…
9. First class cricket returns to the summit
I am an unequivocal cheerleader for the first class and test games – there is nothing like 22 players donning the whites to do battle over four or five days, all things being equal. Call me a traditionalist if you must, for as much as I enjoy limited overs cricket the first class game will always win out.
But am I becoming one of a diminishing minority? Is the coloured garb the new Pepsi – the “choice of a new generation”? Do young boys and girls simply want to see hit and giggle – three hours of excitement over a five day epic?
Given New Zealand’s current struggles in the longer formats on the international arena, the drift away to the coloured caper is hard to argue with – Hobart and Colombo apart there has been little to reminisce about. However, contrast that with this season’s Plunket Shield – runs aplenty at a quick clip. Ryder, Munro, Cachopa, Ronchi and Anderson have upped the entertainment factor – powerful hitting mixed with big scores. Pedestrians on Sandringham Road have been added to the endangered species list as South African born Colin Munro has started to live up to the potential he has promised for six long seasons.
However, while the HRV Cup has become the flagship of New Zealand Cricket; its shop window televised every Friday night and every game covered on the radio, the Plunket Shield has been relegated to a second class citizen. Coverage now centres on live online scoring and the odd update on the radio – albeit from the comfort of the studio.
I may be out of touch, but for New Zealand to stake a claim at international level and achieve more significant tours as part of the Future Tours Programme they need to become more competitive in the test arena – without success in the white clothing no feat in the pyjama game will increase our international standing. With tests in South Africa, home and away against England, a battle against fellow strugglers Bangladesh and a 2013/14 visit by the Windies, New Zealand has every opportunity to stand up and take back ownership of their cricketing fate – 2013 needs to be the first step on the road to reclamation and redemption.
10. Kiwis outnumber the Barmy Army
Marriage, kids and the growing responsibility that accompanies the two have meant I’ve seen less live cricket in recent years than I would have liked – England’s tour next month is my chance to balance the scales. There’s something unique about English cricket; embedded tradition and ceremony that has always struck a chord.
Tickets for the series are affordable – a reflection of New Zealand’s current standing in the world game as its popularity sits on a precipice in this country. With Eden Park being utilised to accommodate an expected influx of English fans, I’ll be in the new stand for every format as well as pulling up a pew in Hamilton for an ODI. But will I be one of a Kiwi minority, drowned out by the Barmy Army faithful?
The Army is a fantastic addition to the English game, enlivening any tour, but I want it as a sideshow not the main attraction. My hope, forlorn perhaps, is that New Zealand fans outnumber our sun shy friends – it’s a given in the limited overs formats but can we do the same for the tests? Please?
11. West Indies become a world cricketing super power again
Winning the World T20 in Sri Lanka was a good start, but it’s not enough for fans of the Calypso Kings. The maroon army sparked my love of our great game – it allowed a young rural lad to dream of an escape with willow and leather.
It’s unlikely the collection of tiny Caribbean islands will ever build another Fire in Babylon era but that’ll never stop me dreaming, nay willing them on. New Zealand may hold my patriotism but the Windies hold my heart. Can Gayle, Samuels, Roach, Sammy et al. repeat their recent T20 heroics on a regular basis at test level? One can but hope…
12. The torch has been passed but...
He may have been ensconced at 11 for the duration of his career but Tommy now sits on the outer, playing on to a stage where the decision to retire is likely to be taken away from him. Yes, he’s playing in South Africa but through an injury absence not a spike in form.
New Zealand has moved on – Southee, Boult and Bracewell look set to form a long term trio, ably backed up by Wagner and Gillespie when needed. In fact, if Gillespie was fit would Chris Martin have even toured?
My hope is that Martin doesn’t allow a pie chart to extinguish the flame on a fine career, he deserves better than that. The 38 year old has 230 test wickets – third on New Zealand’s all time wicket list behind Sir Richard Hadlee and Dan Vettori; ahead of the more fancied Chris Cairns and Danny Morrison. He may never truly look like the archetypal fast bowler but results defy his physical stature.
I would love to see Tommy play on and on but performance trumps sentimentality – let him go quietly into the wilderness of his own accord. He’ll be remembered by many for his deeds with the blade but in a generation bereft of bowlers, Martin should be lauded for his endeavours with the red ball.
The non-travelling reserve
All cricket sides have a non-travelling reserve; a player who should have been in the side, but his tournament form doesn’t warrant it, though a spot in the wider squad helps reduce the political fallout.
In that spirit, let me indulge a personal hope - my wish ever year, regardless of how self-indulgent and rudimentary it may seem. My fate again rests in the hands of Lawrence Booth – will this be the year? My name appeared in an advertisement last year (thanks, Chris) - will this be the year my name appears in Wisden, in its landmark 150th year? I’ll be happy to join Glenn McGrath and Alan Richardson in penning a thank you letter – it’s the least I can do.
What do you want from cricket in 2013 - not just in New Zealand but anywhere in the cricketing world? Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi.