Giving Test Cricket the Short Shrift

Posted on January 21, 2011 by

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New Zealand Cricket

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In the wake of New Zealand’s 0-4 drubbing by Bangladesh in the one-day series last October, Cricinfo published a stats piece which revealed that the kiwis had won just 16 out of 40 ODIs since the beginning of 2009. Given that NZ’s limited overs outfit had generally remained successful even as test fortunes declined, this was hard to stomach.

With the World Cup approaching, naturally there are concerns about where the side is heading and what needs to be done to arrest the slide. It isn’t as if this lot are not used to winning; they were once good enough to come from behind to beat England 3-1 in their own den, and would have beaten Australia 3-2 in the 2009 Chappell Hadlee series
but for the Brisbane rain.

A look at the bigger picture, however, shows that as a cricketing nation NZ have been paying lip service to the longer form of the game for the last five years or so. I would argue that success in one-day internationals is simply not sustainable with a weak test setup, so the side’s struggles shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. For example, the batsmen find themselves unable to adapt when confronted with the moving ball under lights at Dambulla or a square turner at Chennai, and an attack built on medium pace has no strike power when needed most. It is no coincidence that the winner of the last three World Cups was also the best test side right through that period.

The problems NZ face as a test nation include: a lack of opportunities compared to the bigger teams, a small player base, and environmental conditions which breed medium-paced trundlers (and, therefore, batsmen unused to facing quicker bowlers and high quality spin) at the domestic level. But these problems aren’t new or insurmountable ones,
and kiwi teams of the past generally found ways of overcoming such limitations.

Perhaps they aren’t invited to play test cricket regularly, but do the current players want to get better at it badly enough? They showed what they are capable of during the first two tests in India recently, which also highlights the underachieving on their part in recent times. There is also the suspicion that the opportunities and wealth offered by the IPL has meant that the top cricketers – McCullum  and Taylor in particular – aren’t as motivated at the international level as they could be. But when you consider that their own Cricket Board seems to give little importance to test cricket, it is difficult to blame the players for not looking like they care nearly enough.

The Board, NZC, has issues of its own to contend with. In the current cricketing climate, they are faced with the challenging task of keeping the Black Caps marketable, at home and away. There’s scheduling pressure from the IPL, which overlaps with the end of the New Zealand cricket season, and the accompanying fear that some of the players may turn down their contracts like some of their West Indian counterparts have; I imagine Scott Styris, Stephen Fleming and Jacob Oram would not have quit test cricket as early as they did if it hadn’t been for the advent of the IPL. Also, there’s the small matter of cricket having to play second fiddle to rugby.

However, recent history in NZ is littered with examples where test cricket has been badly compromised. India were supposed to tour the country in early 2007 but the BCCI exerted sufficient pressure on NZC to have the series cancelled, citing the need for World Cup preparation. The proposed third test was cut from the Australian tour last year, so as not to overlap with the IPL. This summer, the Pakistan series was similarly cut down to two tests, and not a single one was played in Bangladesh – again in the name of that all-powerful excuse, World Cup preparation. There was room for a third T20 international against the Pakistanis, giving you some idea of where the Board’s priorities lie. And perhaps most crucially, CEO Justin Vaughan presided over a player-drain from which the national side has never fully recovered. The circumstances in which Shane Bond, Stephen Fleming and Lou Vincent were pushed away are known too well to be recounted here.

As far as the makeup of the test side goes, the appointment of John Wright as coach is a positive sign in that the board is finally trying to get the right personnel involved with the setup. The development of youngsters like Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson, as well as the emergence of quick bowlers such as Adam Milne and Neil Wagner on the domestic scene, offer hope that NZ will be a more competitive unit in two or three years’ time. But the revival must start with the
administrators, whose neglect of test cricket has been to the detriment of the game, and its popularity, in New Zealand.

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Article by Suhas Cadambi