It's been deathly slow here at Mike on Cricket, but then it has been deathly slow for New Zealand cricket recently. There hasn't been much going on, so I've been spending my time reading political blogs instead of trying to keep up with the world of cricket.
As you must know, the general election has to be held by 15 November. So the election campaign could be an interesting distraction until the summer really gets started with the first test against Australia on 20 November. I can't help but see cricket everywhere however, so all the politics I have been reading has been making me wonder what effect the result of the general election will have on NZ cricket.
I have checked the websites of the major parties, but no one has any policies for reversing the decline of the NZ cricket team. In fact, no one seems to have a cricket policy at all. National is promising more sports equipment for schools but less funding for sports programmes. Labour claims to have increased funding of sport and recreation during their term by a factor of 67.
Perhaps history is a better predictor of which party will do well for cricket.
History of NZ cricket in terms of the government
NZ started playing test cricket in 1930, during the government of the United Party, which would merge with the Reform Party to form the National Party. This government was followed by the Liberal–Reform coalition. All of which means that the first six years or so of NZ cricket was played under the predecessors of the National Party.
In this period, NZ played 11 matches and lost 4.
To follow the trends, I am going to refer to the graphs of the Test Cricket Rating Service. I believe they use a rating system derived from that used for chess. Whatever. I am just using it because it has historical graphs. The beginning of the graph is going to be iffy statistically, and it rather generously shows NZ occupying a lowish mid-table position for this period.
The Liberal–Reform coalition was followed by 14 years of Labour government, which established the welfare state in NZ and an interventionist economic system, which were to characterise New Zealand for several decades.
World War II severely curtailed test cricket during this period. NZ played 9 tests and lost 2. It was however a pretty good period for NZ cricket. Burt Sutcliffe and JR Reid were playing. We were outclassed by England and Australia (our only opponents in this period), but if we could have played more cricket of longer duration (we only played three-day tests) there is every possibility our first test win could have occurred in this period.
The graph shows us pretty much holding steady, which is probably fair.
Early on in this period, the graph shows a downturn in NZ's cricket fortunes, that turns into a collapse. This period was the long dark night of NZ's cricket history. Our record of an occasional loss amongst numerous draws turned into a bucketload of losses (40) interspersed with draws (35) with an average of about 1 win every 3 years.
This was the long period of the first two National governments. The first ran till '57, the second from '60 to '72. The Second Labour Government filled the gap, just long enough to raise taxes on luxuries and secure NZ's first test victory. Despite the tragic cricket, this was a fairly positive time for New Zealand, with agricultural exports to Britain keeping us relatively prosperous and our alliance with USA giving us greater prominence worldwide then we perhaps deserved, though at the cost of having to join the US in the Vietnam war.
Our cricket fortunes showed a bit of a turn around at the end of the last period, to allow the Third Labour Government, '72–'75, to enjoy a small plateau, that included our first ever win over Australia. Shortly after Labour was replaced by the Third National Government, our results dipped for a few years before rising steadily if unspectacularly.
The Fourth Labour Government was perhaps the most controversial government in our history. Our economy and international alliances were upended and several progressive social policies were enacted. NZ was reinvented and, in some ways, reinvigorated. It was also an exciting time for us in cricket. The rise that began under Muldoon accelerated and we somehow lost our habit of losing. By the time the government was re-elected in '87, the graph shows we were the third ranked test nation, ranked above Australia.
It couldn't last however. In 1990, National were elected. They cut spending, cut welfare and cut wages. The nation went into a funk and the cricket team went with it. We returned to our losing ways and our ranking slid away.
The end to the '90s doldrums came in 1999 with a sudden claw back in our rating, shortly after the election that would lead to the Fifth Labour Government. After this recovery, our rating continued to rise, taking us close to the heights enjoyed under the Fourth Labour Government. Similarly, the country has gradually clawed its way back from the despair of Ruthenasia to real prosperity.
The Test Cricket Rating Service hasn't been updated since July 2006, so the last couple of years of the Fifth Labour Government haven't been captured. However, it is clear that NZ's position has weakened recently. In the ICC ranking system (which can't be compared with the Test Cricket Rating Service unfortunately) we have fallen from 97 points to 83 points. Interestingly however, that hasn't changed our position in the ranking; we were 7th on 97 and are 7th on 83. Another interesting point is that while our rating rose during the '00s, so did that of most of the other countries, so we didn't actually increase our ranking above 7th for anything but a short period.
So, so what? Well I can't tell you who to vote for, but I can give you a couple of perspectives.
From a historical perspective it is clear. The two periods of plenty have come during Labour governments, while the two periods of famine have come during National governments. You would have to expect from this trend that a National government would turn the recent drop in performance into a longer drought. Could re-electing Labour prevent a collapse?
Ignoring the lessons of history, you might interpret the recent downturn as a symptom of a tired, overdone government bereft of ideas and vision. And perhaps the '00s renaissance was illusory anyway, just a consequence of a general cricket-wide trend upwards. So could electing National dodge the impending collapse?
So there you go. Make sure you vote, vote wisely, and vote for cricket.