Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Batting woes

Is the recent trend for New Zealand sides to collapse at the drop of a hat a problem that we don't have the resources to solve? This thought suddenly struck me. Perhaps it isn't that our current players are talented batsmen who have some kind of mental block at odd moments, perhaps they just aren't that talented to begin with.

New Zealand cricket has always when blessed with good bowlers and fielders, but we have always struggled to produce high quality batsmen. Taking the long view, terrible collapses are a trend that we can trace to that stark 26 in the 1950s or even to the first test following the end of the Second World War - where we lost by an innings despite Australia declaring for under 200. Current collapses might not be an aberration, but simply a return to form following some exceptional years in the '80s and '90s.

We might try to dispute this thought by pointing to batting averages. After all, even in the '80s we would have struggled to put together a team with a better combined batting average than Fleming, Astle, McMillan, Styris, Oram and Sinclair. But averages don't always tell the true story - especially in times when sides like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are around and new bat technology makes hitting a ball to the boundary so much easier.

The LG cricket rating system (formerly the Deloitte ratings) was adopted by the ICC because that gives a better indication of a player's status at any moment in time. And a glance at how New Zealanders' fare there is perhaps a more honest indication of ability.

As of today the highest rating New Zealand batsman on the LG test rankings is Stephen Fleming who is at 16, where he rests between Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell. After him you need to drop to 35 before you reach another New Zealander - Jacob Oram. The next top order batsman to rank is Nathan Astle at 38 and he is followed by Dan Vettori at 39. Scott Styris is at 43, and Brendon McCullum at 49 is the only other New Zealander to make the top 50.

A team with a batting line-up of Paul Collingwood, Tillerkaratne Dilshan, Imran Farhat, Kamran Akmal and Dwayne Bravo isn't going to strike too much fear into an international opposition - but that line-up is in fact better ranked than the current New Zealand team.

Perhaps the most sobering thought is that we haven't even mentioned the openers yet. The best of those in the current crop is Craig Cumming, who at 76 is ranked below the likes of England's Owais Shah and Pakistan's Asim Kamal.

Rotation isn't going to solve the problem if we simply don't have the players with the ability to consistently score runs at the highest level. All we are doing is exposing the flaws in a wider number of players.

What we need to do is to go to the root of the problem.

We need to change the emphasis on letting players "play their natural game" and start to teach the basics of good batting technique at an earlier age.
We need to consider using concrete or matting wickets more often and at a higher level than we do now. New Zealand wickets from first-class level down are almost all low and slow. Scoring runs on low seaming wickets is best achieved by coming forward and swinging the bat hard at the ball. This does not teach young players to use footwork and soft hands like they need to do on good wickets.

None of this solves the problem right now. Perhaps the best solution to our current woes is one that New Zealand Cricket has already started to apply - more tours to places with better batting conditions for players at the development stage (the recent trips to Darwin being the best examples).

1 comment:

parker said...

I've often wondered why our batsmen do so poorly in the ratings, even when they do consistently fail and disappoint. Surely Collingwood fails more often that Fleming, Astle et al? I'm obviously deluded.

Maybe I'm a bit biased towards the 80s team, which I followed more passionately as a kid, but I'd have Wright, Crowe and Jones (not mentioning the batting skills of Hadlee and Smith) in the side any day for Fleming, Astle, McMillan, Styris, Oram and Sinclair.