A letter to New Zealand's batsmen
Dear Baz, Rosco, Guppy, Kane, Flynny, Frankie,
Baz, remember last year when I said to Ian Smith on his radio show that you could become the world's best Test batsman-keeper, if fit to keep, but you needed to bat five, behind Rosco? I said I admired you for trying to open, but ideally your best position for potential production of runs was batting five. I said that opening in a Test match was a real specialist's job, but that you as a brilliant all-round cricketer needed room to express all that talent. Five minutes later, after the ads, on the same radio station, they put you on live and you were told to listen to a quickly edited, out-of-context sound bite of me saying you should bat five. Your immediate reaction when asked what you made of all that was to say, "We stopped listening to Crowe years ago."
That's okay, but I want you to have one last listen. What harm could it do?
I have no problem with you opening, as you are one of the best New Zealand have, you are experienced and have done it enough now to have a good feel for it. Also, as your back won't allow you to keep, specialising in a role like opening is a great challenge, and the team do need you to conquer it.
My advice is simple. If worthy to follow, it might pay off for the others too.
Batting for a long period in a Test match really only requires one thing: keeping the wicket-taking balls out with impregnable defence. Once you do that, the rest of the balls you face are run-scoring opportunities. That's what the most prolific do at present - Kallis, Amla, Jayawardene, Sangakkara, Cook, Clarke. They respect the wicket-taking ball and then go after the rest, especially the boundary ball.
They know which is which. They have trained their mind to sense once the ball leaves the hand whether it is a wicket-taking ball or boundary ball. In a Test you are better off with this approach because you can afford to adopt it. You are allowed to bat for two days if you want. So if you can, get rid of the desire to have what is popularly known as "positive intent" to your innings; it's too general and can get you into trouble. Instead, just bat ball by ball; keep out the good one softly and hit the bad one brutally. Chances are, you will increase your production by ten runs an innings easily.
Rosco, you too need to go back to the basics. Get in first. Get the eyes adjusted first. Get the feet moving together and properly first. Get the bat hitting the ball late first. Defend the wicket-taking ball, wait for the loose one. Bat in tens, chalk up as many tens as you can. Walk off with the umpires.
Guppy, stop beating yourself up. Talk positively to yourself with simple, positive affirmations: "This ball, watch the ball." Once the ball is bowled, chill out, relax for a few seconds, do nothing. Breathe. If a negative thought enters your head, laugh at it, or visualise screwing it up like a piece of paper and throwing it away. It's a famous Bruce Lee tactic that I used a lot. Play to your strength of hitting straight, defensively and offensively. Make them suffer with your large frame and bat forming a wall they can't get through. Oh, and put your bat on the ground, as this holding it up has never worked for you; a shorter backlift is a better option.
Kane, it's your second year and bowlers are working you out. They are bowling tighter to you. You need to get behind the ball, so the ball goes back to the bowler or on the on side of the pitch. Your footwork is excellent but you seem stuck. Part of that is this desire of yours to pump your backlift up high while the bowler runs in. Doesn't suit you. Better if you put the bat on the ground and tap it softly, like you did when you made 40 hundreds at school. With the backlift held up and behind you, you can't access the leg-side ball well enough. Go back to what you used to do, which made you the finest prospect to come out of youth cricket. You are potentially world-class, but you need to believe it too.
Flynny, good to see you fighting hard. You are playing for your life and it shows. But I know you have more skill than you are showing, especially when driving down past the bowler. All your runs are coming square. Drive straight more and beat the bowler for more runs. You can dominate these guys when they get tired. Get in as you have been, then punch them straight all day.
Frankie, it's best I just say it out loud: what the hell are you doing? For a big, strapping lad to be blocking every single ball with a half-step and a lazy stroke is a complete waste of all you have learnt in the last 15 years. Take some rescue remedy or smell some salts, but for heaven's sake, fire yourself up for the contest. Once out there, say to yourself: "The ball". See it and go hit it. You are an allrounder, so you are allowed the freedom to impose yourself as Botham, Hadlee, Kapil and Imran used to do. They saw the ball and cleared the field. Hit straight and hit the wide gaps. Be smart, but be competitive and fiery with it.
Overall, lads, we just want a bit of individual spirit and some internal fortitude over a reasonable period at the crease. Deep down I do hope you are thinking of churning out a ton. I know there is no greater feeling as a batsman. To bat six hours in a Test is better than sex.
Mostly I just want you to decide on who and what you are and what you know, what you bring to international cricket, what you want to give for your country. From the outside, you look dispirited, disjointed and disoriented.
Wrongly, you are looking outside for the answers. Look within, look in the mirror and ask yourself to stand up and be the men you are. Look within, be honest, strip away the rubbish and focus on what's important and what's really and essentially you.
As a batsman, settle on a method and style of batting that you can be true to, day in, day out. It has nothing to do with confidence. If a top player relies on confidence, he will never achieve much. Rely on method and repetition. Often I felt awful, stressed, slow, even distracted, but once I got to the middle, I relied on a method of controlling my thoughts and executing a straight bat with sure footwork. Even in a bad mood, if I relied on those basic principles I could still forge a score that was respectable. That's all anyone can ask.
Come on, chaps, forget the pre-match talk about intent boding well on a certain pitch, taking on spinners. It's all false bravado. Tell the media to turn up and watch and report on the game once it starts. Look in the mirror, remind yourselves of the affirmations you will need to control the concentration required for each ball, stick your chin up, and turn to face the music with fierce focus.
Guys, while walking out to bat it's vital you feel the sense that you are relishing the opportunity, embracing the challenge, and are grateful for the talent your parents gave you.
Men, take guard so you know where your stumps are, then look at where the gaps are, and finally watch the ball leave the bowler's hand. Then repeat it, over and over. When the umpires take you off the field, your job is done for that period. In a Test, the greatest achievement is seeing how many times the umpires take you off the field, undefeated.
Lastly, lads, trust me when I say that what you are doing, batting in a Test match, fighting a cause for your nation, is far and away a better option than sitting in an office.
Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand