New Zealand May 2, 2012

Wright and Buchanan: an imperfect pairing

A café near my place is shutting down

A café near my place is shutting down. It’s called the Looney Tunes Café and it has decent food and nice staff. But the owner of the building has decided that he wants a bigger glossier café in its place and the current homely style of café is not going to match his new building.

Now watch me say that John Wright (the soon to be former coach of New Zealand) is the Looney Tunes Café and John Buchanan (current New Zealand director of cricket) is the forward thinking building owner trying to get the most out of his investment.

It’s easy to make John Buchanan out to be the bad guy. A non-Test playing bookish nerd who looks like Ned Flanders, who is overly fond of lawn bowls and ancient Chinese text. It doesn’t help that Shane Warne never misses a chance to abuse John Buchanan, or that several of Buchanan’s theories don’t really make much sense.

But New Zealand Cricket didn’t pick Buchanan by accident. They appointed the guy with the wacky theories to propel their mid-range side to greater things. New Zealand is not a country rich with cricket talent or facilities; they have always been at their best when their team comes together as one unit to knock over the better sides. Even with players like Brendon McCullum, Jesse Ryder, Daniel Vettori and Ross Taylor, they seem to rely on a team effort to win big games. And like the Oakland Athletics, they’ve only got so much to work with.

Buchanan has had success. Not so much with his theories or wackiness, but with his record. Take out his time with Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL, and he has coached one of the most successful teams in world cricket and won Shield titles for a team that had never done it before. He has successfully got inside the head of countless opposition players by “accidentally” leaking player dossiers. Even Shane Warne believes his maiden over theory.

The problem is that few cricket fans in New Zealand would know or care about this. John Buchanan’s just not well respected in New Zealand. Most people only know of Buchanan in New Zealand because he hired a lawn bowls administrator to work for NZC. You can’t put that up against John Wright. A former New Zealand warrior with two stints as coach. Old school, smart and universally accepted. It’s unfair to Buchanan.

It’s also another reason why Wright and Buchanan weren’t ever going to be ideal partners. One believes in cricket laws and man management. The other believes in spreadsheets and KPIs.

NZC were betting each way on this. Hoping that this odd melding of old and new theories would somehow blend beautifully. It hasn’t.

John Wright is leaving.

New Zealand has lost its most respected coach, and people are talking about John Buchanan like he wants their team to be coached by a team of alien ninja turtle avatars who sprout mantra’s from Tony Robbins speeches. Which he may.

John Buchanan is not as useless as many say he is, nor as good as NZC think he is. But the NZC have made their decision. They now need to find a coach who is reading from the same copy of the art of war as Buchanan is. Or they need to clear out Buchanan and start again.

If you are going to make a choice, make one. You may not be able to replicate the homely food of the Looney Tunes Café, but you sure as hell want to make sure the food at the new establishment matches the décor and setting to ensure the locals don’t get angry.

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for