Thursday, 30 December 2004

End of the tour

So Sri Lanka have gone home, as they probably should have done from the start. Given the scale of the disaster in that country it was the right choice, although I suspect the team could have done more for their countrymen by remaining here and using the proceeds from the tour for disaster relief. In the end though, it is hard to play cricket when you are grieving.

So what does this mean for our summer? Well it means no international cricket over the holiday period and I suspect that means financial difficulty for New Zealand Cricket. It also means that the fans will have nothing to watch but domestic cricket and the short end-of-season tour by Australia. And that might be no bad thing. The domestic game could do with some time under the spotlight and with all the international players available it should also be more attractive. The standard of the games should also be higher and that will do great things for the development of the second tier of players.

When I first heard the Sri Lanka tour was cancelled, I was disappointed - understanding but disappointed. But now I have thought about it a little more, and have reflected on the appalling standard of our test play recently, I have decided that time spent playing first-class cricket and relearning the basics is just what our players need and I am quite looking forward to following the fortunes of a Northern Districts team with Daniel Vettori back on board.

Review of the year

Lynn McConnell has written a review of the year for Cricinfo. He doesn't reveal anything particularly insightful - we are better at the one-day game than the test game and Daniel Vettori is back to form - but it is still worth a read.

Wednesday, 29 December 2004

Martin Crowe replies

Martin Crowe has replied to Andrew McLean's criticism with no small degree of vitriol.

Andrew McLean's recent article criticising Sky TV's opening-game coverage of the New Zealand-Sri Lanka tour is so way off the mark that it needs not only correcting but a serious look at the man writing it.


Tuesday, 28 December 2004

The showboater baits the booing Australian crowd

Shoaib showboater

Today's Sydney Morning Herald includes a piece by Peter Roebuck on the battle between Justin Langer and Shoaib Akhtar at Melbourne. The battle made for great viewing - Akhtar may be a completely loopy showboater, but he is bloody fantastic to watch.

Monday, 27 December 2004

Hawk-eyes and poor knowledge

Andrew McLean is not someone you would ever accuse of lacking cricket knowledge, and he uses some of his knowledge today to point out some of Sky's awkward failings.

Friday, 24 December 2004

Poll results and a new poll

It seems half of you are pessimists and half of you optimists. In my last poll six of you were bouyed by the one-day results in Australia, and six were still depressed about our prospects in the upcoming tests.

My new poll asks you to reveal your dearest cricket-related wish. Vote now and make sure that Santa is not left uncertain about what he should pack on his next visit to New Zealand.

Thursday, 23 December 2004

Cricket in 2004

Peter Roebuck has reviewed cricket in 2004 and decided that it was a troubled year. I can't add much to his analysis, except to emphasise that the ICC is failing. Petty politics, greed and decisions which are often nothing more than weak-willed cop-outs are doing the game tremendous harm. It is time for decision-making to be taken from the hands of national board representatives, who appear to care only for the success of their own national sides, and put into the hands of professional administrators with a clear directive to do the best for the game as a whole.

There is a wide belief that the new anti-chucking law was the result of Sri Lanka calling in favours owed to it by the other members of the sub-continental clique to ensure that Murali can keep bowling Sri Lanka to success. Whether this is true or not, the process of decision-making demonstrated by the rumour is indicative of an organisation where national self-interest holds sway over the best interests of the game at large.

It is appropriate for administrators of national boards to do the best they can to improve cricket in their country. Martin Snedden's aim should be to do all he can to lift cricket in New Zealand. And Snedden is a talented administrator with a lot to contribute to the debate about what is best for world cricket. But while he should be able to contribute to this debate, he should not be part of the final decision-making process - because there are often conflicts between what is best for New Zealand cricket and what is best for world cricket. The best thing for cricket internationally is to have a clear, unambiguous rule on chucking. The best thing for Sri Lankan cricket have Murali bowling his doosra. You cannot allow the game to be tainted by intrigue, or even the rumours in intrigue, by letting the adminstrator responsible for Sri Lankan cricket (or New Zealand cricket, or English cricket) decide how the international game should be run.

The "Black Caps" website

Golly. A new New Zealand cricket website. Some of the stats seem a little ropey and it is a little hard to navigate - particularly if you are looking for information on the domestic game - but it has some very comprehensive and informative player profiles (make sure you click on "full profile" after clicking on a player's name). A nice add-on to the old website.

Wednesday, 22 December 2004

Battle of the Keepers

Andrew McLean starts speculating on the make-up of a World XI to play Australia by looking at who might challenge for the keeper's spot. McLean sees it as a showdown between Kumar Sangakkara and Brendon McCullum.

There are plenty of other places to start speculating - who will open the bowling, who will open the batting - but wicket-keeper seems a nice, low-key place to start. It is a bit surprising to see that Brendon McCullum has managed to get into the reckoning so early into his career, but a review of the rest of the world shows that wicket-keepers are having a rough old time. Mark Boucher has been dumped from South Africa; Geraint Jones has been untidy; Kamran Akmal, Carlton Baugh and Dinesh Karthik are even newer to top-level cricket than McCullum; and on recent performances, players from Zimbabwe and Bangladesh should concentrate on drawing the odd match before they start thinking about World XIs. So based on form and recent results, McCullum is probably in with a good shot of selection if he can outplay Sangakkara over the Sri Lanka series.

The problem is of course that selection will probably hinge on more than just form and results. The matches are all about drawing an audience and that means ensuring that the largest (and richest) viewing populations are catered for. I suspect this will mean that the World XI will contain at least one player from every major cricketing nation and that those nations with the biggest television viewing populations will have more players selected than those without. Even if New Zealand ends the series as the number two ranked nation in the world, don't expect us to have more than one player in the side.

Monday, 20 December 2004

The Herald on Sunday's review of the year in cricket

The Herald on Sunday managed to find a few speks of joy in a year of misery, although it surprisingly omitted Chris Martin's bowling heroics against the Proteas.

Hamilton's pitch

Apparently there are problems with the wicket at Westpac Trust Park. Again.

We are a month away from test cricket there and it is a worry that they are already talking about problems. The groundsman is optimistic, but even his comments indicate that at best the pitch will be low and slow. I used to think that Hamilton was just unlucky in that it would have had good wickets but for the weather, but the recent history of the ground indicates that it hosts either low-scoring lotteries or slow-scoring borefests.

Auckland no longer deserves test match cricket and Hamilton needs to improve on recent pitches. Perhaps it is time to experiment with new venues, Hagley Oval has the best pitch in the country and McLean Park just hosted a magnificient first-class game in which Northern Districts scored 400/9 in the fourth innings to win. You might argue that those grounds do not have the capacity of Eden Park or Westpac Trust Park, but it is unlikely that a test match would fill them anyway. And 7000 fans packing out McLean Park would create a much better atmosphere than 10,000 in a mostly empty Eden Park.

Saturday, 18 December 2004

The invention of the pads

Ouch! Wisden has printed a summary of the match which resulted in the introduction of the pad in 1836. The whole thing is worth reading, but here is what happened after England's best cricketer of the time (Alfred Mynn) faced the country's fastest pace bowler (Samuel Redgate):

Mynn beckoned Lord Beauclerk to him as he staggered into a tent before showing him his leg. Beauclerk, one of the virility cult who were against any leg-guards, was appalled at what he saw. He immediately sent for a stagecoach to take Mynn back to London. But Mynn was so huge, and the leg so inflamed, that he could not get inside, so he lay flat on the roof, where the luggage usually went. The uneven roads of the 1830s would have added considerably to Mynn's discomfort. He began his recovery at the Angel Tavern in St Martin's Lane in London, before moving on to St Bartholomew's Hospital, where eminent surgeons debated whether they could save his leg or not.

Perhaps this is how we can handicap the Aussies. I'd like to see them score 350 runs a day against Shoaib Akhtar without pads on...

Richardson's fine figures

Cricinfo has analysised Mark Richardson's career, and decided he was quite handy really. Mark himself has shown quite a relaxed (but clearly knowledgeable) approach to statistics, when asked by the press whether he minded ending his career stuck on 9994 first-class runs he said "no" and commented, "if you stick a decimal point in the middle of those figures it's the same as Sir Don Bradman's test average."

Thursday, 16 December 2004

A State of madness

After two rounds of competition the State Championship now goes into hiding until mid-January. Meaning that the only chance for a New Zealand (or potential New Zealand) cricketer to play a match lasting more than 50 overs before the first test against Sri Lanka will be if they happen to play for Auckland during that team's warm-up match against the tourists. This is pure madness. Our players have patently forgotten how to play the longer version of the game and the best way to remind them is to get them to play four-day matches. Not only that but the first-class competition is a chance for the players on the fringes to showcase their test credentials. Instead, the players will be fed a month of one-day domestic and international slog-a-thons which will only drive their test game further backwards and will prevent promising stone-wallers like Nick Horsley from even getting a chance to shine.

I understand that New Zealand Cricket wants to squeeze as much money out of the summer holidays as possible, and that means staging one-day matches, but this poorly thought-out excuse for a season is only going to lead to disastrous international performances. And that will cause the crowds, and the money, to evaporate. Surely, surely somebody sat down and thought about this before drawing up the season's itinerary.

As an aside, the one-day side for the matches against the Sri Lankans gets picked today. Presumably on the form of the players in the four-day competition. Sigh.

Wednesday, 15 December 2004

Kookaburra goes kooky

Wardy pointed out that Kookaburra have introduced a new cricket bat with an interesting design. What next? Studded leather pads and motorcycle boots with sprigs?

Tuesday, 14 December 2004

Dipak's batting order

Dipak Patel was on the radio this morning proclaiming the virtues of Jamie How. I usually switch off when Dipak is proclaiming, because the objects of his affection are mostly dobbers from Central Districts who have just taken an inexpensive four-for on a vicious greentop somewhere in the wops (Michael Mason, Lance Hamilton, Andrew Schwass etc etc). But How is an opening batsman who has just scored three centuries in the first three innings of the first-class season, so I sat up and listened. Dipak announced that if he were to pick a test team right now, it would open with How and Michael Papps and have Fleming, Astle and Sinclair (in that order) to follow. Dipak believes Scott Styris can no longer justify his place at number four and that Sinclair is a much better player at five than he is as an opener. I agree entirely with Dipak's logic. The only player I would have a question mark over is Michael Papps due to some pretty average recent form, but in the absence of competition he would probably still have to be picked. Oram and McCullum are capable of good work at six and seven respectively, but given the nature of New Zealand pitches I might be tempted to slot another batsman into the order - Hamish Marshall perhaps.

Other players in good form at the start of the domestic competition are Kerry Walmsley, Tama Canning, Andre Adams, Chris Martin, Lou Vincent, James Franklin and Craig Gaffaney. If Vincent maintains his form, he could well come back into the reckoning. To boost his chances he might consider taking Mark Richardson's place at the top of the Auckland batting order.

Monday, 13 December 2004

Chappell on Bracewell and Fleming

A column by an Australian in an Indian paper attempts to analyse the problems with New Zealand cricket, and Ian Chappell tells the Mid-Day Mumbai that all the problems stem from John Bracewell.

There might be something in what Chappell has to say, but not too much. Chappell claims that Bracewell's presence and power has sidelined Stephen Fleming and caused the captain to lose interest. In my view Fleming's captaincy in Australia was weak not because of Bracewell's influence, but because his team was weak and the Australians had too few weaknesses for him to attack. Illness may have played a part and he was certainly starting to look more like the Fleming of old in the one-dayers. But one look at his face in the closing overs of either match should have demonstrated to anyone watching that his passion is not waning.

The fact is, John Bracewell is an abrasive character and he loves getting up Australian noses. Ian Smith's new book reveals that Braces' dislike of Australians goes back a long, long way (to the underarm incident and the disrespect shown by Australian officials in the aftermath) and it is not showing any signs of dying away soon. Chappell's piece reeks of a personality clash, and I do not believe he would have written it if someone else was in charge. The crux of Chappell's column is that coaches should not have a say in tactics or a say in team selection. Unfortunately for Chappell's argument that is not the view of most cricket-playing nations. If he were to be consistent then he should also be telling the Mid-day Mumbai that John Buchanan and John Wright are too powerful.

While we shouldn't have any concerns about the extent of Bracewell's influence, we should be a little worried about his abrasiveness. His time in Gloucestershire was marked by a player exodus (although the players who remained became remarkably loyal to him) and it is possible that this may happen with the New Zealand side. Certainly it is easy to see Ian Butler becoming disillusioned very, very quickly. And I do wonder if Mark Richardson's loss of enjoyment of the game might partially stem from this source. Despite this abrasiveness, I don't doubt Bracewell's ability as a coach and have been impressed with some of his unorthodoxy in keeping players fresh and interested during gruelling tours.

Saturday, 11 December 2004

Poll results and a new poll

The test series was a big disappointment, and poor performances were almost universal. It is not surprising then that the votes for most disappointing performance were shared around quite widely. Scott Styris topped the poll, but only one vote seperated him from the recently retired Mark Richardson, who shared second place with Kyle Mills and Craig McMillan. Stephen Fleming and James Franklin both received one vote.

The Australian tour ended with a soggy anti-climax, but this week I want you to tell me how much those first two ODIs cheered you up and what you think this might mean (if anything) for our test prospects.

Bloody Bracewells

Brother Brendon, feeling left out by Johnny's outburst against Hawkeye, Australian curators and Australian umpires, has decided to throw his own little tantrum. In an e-mail to Ken Rutherford he accused the New Zealanders of being "over-coached" and said that they keep "coming up with stomach bugs, ear aches [and] swollen glands at the mention of hard-work". Ian Butler copped the biggest barrage, with Bracewell describing him as a "pea-hearted, selfish bloke" that "Johnny doesn't want in the team". This might explain why Kyle Mills was preferred to Brendon for most of the tour, but clashes somewhat with John's statement that Butler was one of the players who developed most on the tour and that he is "one of the guys that are going to be the next ten years of our cricket."

Friday, 10 December 2004

Mark Richardson retires from all cricket

Mark Richardson has just announced that he will retire from all cricket following Auckland's next first-class match. He stated that he lost the desire to play cricket during the tour to England. How will we ever replace him?

Braces unleashes

It won't surprise anyone who remembers him from his playing days, but John Bracewell has just thrown all his toys out of the cot. And, just like in his playing days, while he may sound paranoid - he probably has a point. Despite the groundsman's denial, it does seem mighty suspicious that the wicket for tonight's match has been swapped from a spinner's paradise to a pitch so green that Australia are planning to leave their only spinner out altogether. John has also hinted that he believes Channel Nine have rigged Hawkeye, I am not sure whether I agree with that but I certainly agree with his point that Australian umpires have a blind spot when it comes to Matthew Hayden and the LBW law.

Wednesday, 8 December 2004

The All Blacks and the All Yellows

In a very interesting piece in Cricinfo (although I might just find it interesting because he agrees with me), Lynne McConnell compares the Australian cricket team to the All Blacks and looks at the fundamental problems in the New Zealand game.

The 2nd ODI

Heavy rain is forecast in Sydney and the wicket is looking old, low and slow. It seems New Zealand are banking on the wicket to win them the match, and Australia the weather. We have picked slow wicket masters Vettori and Harris, while the Aussies have gone for an all out pace attack in the hope that rain will spice up the wicket.

Kasprowicz has been dropped and I think that gives a nice air of desperation to the Australians. They must still be the firm favourites, but it is nice to force them to make changes for once.

Tuesday, 7 December 2004

Something to ponder

Next year, after we have played Sri Lanka and Australia at home, the world champions will play a Rest of the World XI in a three match one-day series in Melbourne for $1,000,000. This doesn't sound too interesting from a New Zealand perspective, except for one thing: under the criteria (written by the Australians) the "World Champions" are defined as the number one ranked ODI team in the world as at 1 April 2005, and, if we can beat Australia and Sri Lanka, New Zealand will be the number one ranked ODI team in the world on that date.

Monday, 6 December 2004

New Zealand Cricket - upgraded

The New Zealand Cricket website has been upgraded and you are apparently able to follow the first round State Championship matches live, although there seems to be some bug in the system as I write. While that section is still suffering teething problems, you can definitely access an extensive database of statistics, including individual player records for U-19 matches which you cannot find anywhere else. The only real flaw appears to be the lack of a date to the records, so you cannot be sure that they are fully up-to-date.

Tortoise vs tortoise

Mark Richardson's running race continues to captivate the imagination. The Pakistanis are now talking up Inzamam ul-Haq's chances in a race against Darren Lehmann.


Monday mornings are much easier to deal with when you have a victory under your belt. And what a victory! What a shot in the arm! A sensational match to remind us all that the one-day game is not yet a dinosaur that Twenty20 will make extinct.

Intelligence won us the match. It was the cleverness of Cairns' slower ball and Vettori's control which reduced the Australian batting and the impish innovation of Marshall and McCullum with bat in hand that saw us through to 247. Prior to the intervention of the imps, Astle and Sinclair laid down some rock-solid foundations. Bill Lawry busily wrote us off at this point, lamenting the lack of aggression. I see hope for the future in the fact that Australians no longer know what it means to build an innings. What will they do when Gilchrist finally hangs up his super-charger? Peter Roebuck saw more than mere imps running around in the New Zealand team, in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald he remarked how the side seems so much the stronger by virtue of the inclusions of a bearded gentleman who gave his name as Chris Cairns and a little chap apparently taken straight from the set of The Lord Of The Rings. Hamish Marshall might well have just won himself a new nickname.

Sunday, 5 December 2004

ODI preview

The Aussie press aren't paying much attention, they seem more interested in domestic cricket and the upcoming series against Pakistan, but New Zealand are about to play three one-day matches against the world champions. It is actually a series we should do quite well in - an attack of Shane Watson, Brett Lee, Brad Hogg and Michael Kasprowicz is not nearly as intimidating as an attack with Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne. Meanwhile the New Zealand side has been boosted by the return of Chris Cairns and Ian Butler. Butler's inclusion might not be the odd decision his appalling one-day form for New Zealand and for Northern Districts makes it seem. The mouthy fast bowler has been spitting tacks over the fact that Kyle Mills was prefered to him in Brisbane (and who wouldn't?) and a fired up quick might be just the counter we need for Brett Lee's pace. Don't expect his overs to come cheap though.

As you would hope and expect, Stephen Fleming has been talking up our chances. On the other hand Mark Richardson, who is not playing, he has returned to New Zealand in a rather defensive state of mind.

In other news, the President of New Zealand Cricket is touting Craig McMillan as the national side's next captain - which is news that I am sure will cheer some of you up.

Friday, 3 December 2004

Mark Richardson's thoughts on Australia

Mark has been talking to the BBC again, and this time he talks about how ruthless and methodical the Australian cricketers are. He sounds somewhat defeatist and ends with an almost fearful "the horrific thought for us is that we have three more Tests against these guys coming up at home with only the reprieve of two dates with Sri Lanka. And Muttiah Muralitharan's doosra." Which makes him sound a little like a man under siege. To make us feel better he adds a few of the usual platitudes about "not giving up", and at least he is not talking about retirement.

The most insightful thought in his piece comes from Jacob Oram, who seems to be hardening nicely after his Australian experience. Jacob said he would "much prefer to be beaten up by a champion than beat up a weakling." If he keeps performing at the same level as he has been lately, some of Jacob's opponents will hopefully be muttering the same words in the not to distant future.

Wednesday, 1 December 2004

Something for New Zealanders to cheer about at last!

Poll results and a new poll

There was not too much change from the results of my previous poll - which asked the same question about how well we would do against Australia but was posted before the first test debacle. It just goes to show that people are either pessimists or optimists and results are not going to change that. 13 people voted this time, 5 said the Aussies would thrash us without reprieve, 4 said we would lose but would also show a little spine and 4 weirdos fervently believed we would show Aussie what for.

I don't want to hang anyone out to dry and I don't believe picking a scapegoat is going to help, but my new question is hard to avoid. Reflect on the tour and vote for who you felt most disappointed by. Not the person you want sacked. Not the person you want to see hanged, drawn and quartered. Just the person whose failure you felt most keenly.

It doesn't get any tougher than this

In his latest column, Justin Langer tells the BBC that the New Zealand cricketers will never find test cricket as tough as it has been in the past week. Which, I suppose is a good way of looking at things from a New Zealand perspective. The summer is only going to get easier.

We were burnt horribly in the crucibles of Brisbane and Adelaide, but we can take a small degree of comfort from some flashes of iron amongst the ashes. Brendon McCullum and Jacob Oram came away looking harder, more confident players. And of the oldsters, Daniel Vettori and Paul Wiseman rediscovered their aggression and form. Others, like Chris Martin, can take pride in the way that they never stopped fighting.

On the downside, we have learnt that Kyle Mills is not a test cricketer, Scott Styris does not have the technique or temperament to deal with top-class bowling, Matthew Sinclair is not an opener and that James Franklin's nerves can still get the better of him. Despite these concerns, Franklin and Sinclair are worth persevering with. Sinclair has already shown that he can score runs against good attacks from lower in the order and if we bring in Papps to open and move Sinclair to Styris' spot at number four the batting starts to look more secure. Richardson has voiced concern that he couldn't cope with Australia and is starting to talk about retirement, but he has shown his class in the past and will find Sri Lanka at home easier to deal with. McMillan, Styris and Marshall should be sent away to spend some time in the domestic game - and if they can score runs and Sinclair doesn't then the path is open for their return.

The bowling is still an issue but our seam merchants will do much better on New Zealand soil. I just hope that the pitches are not made too easy for them - because it conceals our bowlers' weaknesses and teaches them nothing about how test cricket should be played. I am hopeful that the form shown in Australia by Vettori and Wiseman will encourage groundsmen to prepare better pitches for the summer tests. If they do and if he can master his nerves, Franklin still has the talent to swing through any side. Of our other pace bowlers, Butler is still in the wings, the rehabilitation of Tuffey is progressing without too much concern and there are some youngsters of promise about - Te Ahu Davis and Richard Sherlock amongst them. The best news, and whisper it carefully so as not to hex it, is that Shane Bond is bowling again. So things are not looking as black as the test series makes them seem.

In the longer term, we do need to produce much better wickets in this country if we are going to improve. A look at last weekend's club competition in Wellington showed that over half the top level sides were dismissed for less than 100. Only one side made 200. This does nothing for our development. Young batsmen need to learn how to build an innings and to do that they need to play on pitches where a freak ball is not going to dismiss them at any stage. And bowlers need to learn to do more than just land a ball on its seam.