Down Under View

Opportunity knocks

Lynn McConnell on the challenges and chances ahead for New Zealand squad touring Pakistan

Lynn McConnell

November 25, 2003

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Such has been the discussion over whether New Zealand would actually tour Pakistan, the naming of the team was one of the more low key events in recent cricket history. Yet if the squad had been announced in less controversial times, there would have been some major talking points.

Perhaps it is a reflection of the national malaise brought about by too much rugby, the disappointment of failing to make the World Cup rugby final, and then the sudden realisation that Christmas is the next cab off the rank. But Messrs Craig Cumming, Tama Canning, Matthew Walker, Kerry Walmsley and Hamish Marshall are all grateful that the nation was otherwise pre-occupied over the weekend. They may still yet get out of the country on Wednesday before anyone wakes up.

Given the unavailabilities and injuries, this selection was always going to have the look of opportunism about it. Yet in the desperation to honour the commitment to Pakistan after the abandonment of their last tour in 2002, the selectors have made some pretty clear points.

The most obvious of these, and heart-warming it will be to some of the older stagers in the first-class game, is that maturity is valued again. There has been a temptation to regard everything that has come out of the national academy as the be-all and end-all of opportunity in New Zealand. But in every respect there has to be a chance in the system for late bloomers.

This sort of cricketer has been the cornerstone of teams in the past. Think of players like Andrew Jones, Ewen Chatfield, Hedley Howarth, to name but a few. These players must have wondered if they would ever play, or permanently hold a place in the national team. Yet, once given their chance, they made the most of it. They had to work so hard for themselves that once in the Promised Land, they were not going to look behind. Each made significant contributions to New Zealand's development. And they were not alone.

Winston Churchill, the former England Prime Minister, put it best: "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

That is how Cumming, Canning and Walker - sounds like a law firm, or in the case of the financially-advantaged players on the national scene at the moment, perhaps that should be an accountancy firm - must view this windfall chance. They will never have a better chance, perhaps never another chance, in which to show they have the qualities to play international cricket.

Given the state of change that must surround the arrival of a new coach, there can be no guarantees for any player. New ownership brings different views, demands and expectations. To stake a claim from the outset would be the wisest option.

In a similar situation are the discards of earlier times, those players like Matthew Sinclair, Marshall and Walmsley. Sinclair, especially, has shown the temperament for the big occasion, shown by his two Test double centuries, something only Glenn Turner has also achieved for New Zealand. He has the most to gain from consistent performances against bowlers he has faced before. Walmsley and Marshall are not so prominent, but could do plenty for their own causes, especially with a tour of England looming next winter.

And Richard Jones and Michael Mason, almost the reluctant tourists after their minimal opportunities to contribute in India and Sri Lanka, should finally have relevant time in the middle. Pakistan will be a tough test for both of them, and their reaction after having to wait so long will be interesting.

This team might not be a full-strength side, but that has done nothing to diminish the pressure on them to perform. Whenever the tour statistics are looked at in the future, the side will be seen as representatives of New Zealand. The personnel won't matter a jot. That is something those players need to realise as they head into the unknown on what might yet prove to be a significant jolt for their career prospects.

As Tom Peters, the American author, said: "If a window of opportunity appears, don't pull down the shade."

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Series/Tournaments: New Zealand tour of Pakistan
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