Exciting times for New Zealand July 13, 2004

Bracewell completes the jigsaw

There haven't been many moments in New Zealand's cricket history when there has been the chance to believe, firmly, that when the side takes the field its prospects of victory are better than 50%



Chris Harris: came through the hard times to complete a rare double © Getty Images

There haven't been many moments in New Zealand's cricket history when there has been the chance to believe, firmly, that when the side takes the field its prospects of victory are better than 50%.

Perhaps the most notable time was during the mid-1980s, when Richard Hadlee was in his pomp, Jeremy Coney was leading the side, and Glenn Turner was providing the guiding hand as the coach. That remains the only New Zealand Test side to beat Australia in their own backyard. It was a formidable combination under any circumstances, the stars supplemented by the undoubted talents of players such as Martin Crowe, John Wright, Ian Smith, Ewen Chatfield, Bruce Edgar and John Reid ... and John Bracewell.

There was a second time - a heady month during the 1992 World Cup, when crafty planning by Crowe and the coach Warren Lees was backed by the execution of a team possessed and, for once, holding a rugby-obsessed nation in their sway. Ultimately they fell at the penultimate hurdle in a never-to-be-forgotten semi-final against Pakistan. That team relied on its captain, Crowe, and significant contributors in Andrew Jones, Mark Greatbatch, Ken Rutherford, Ian Smith, Dipak Patel and Gavin Larsen ... and Chris Harris.

Cricket's reservoir of talent in New Zealand is so shallow that there is almost an element of family about the game here. Certainly experience can never be easily discarded, although in darker days that has been a great fault. That lack of depth can also mean that sometimes when great things are expected of the side - such as in the recent Test series that England won 3-0 - injury can cut a swathe through expectations. That is something New Zealanders have become inured to, painful as it may be, and there was nothing more painful than that loss to England.

It was when addressing the issue of lack of depth during the administrative revolution that the New Zealand board undertook during the mid-'90s, that the shake-up which had been witnessed in New Zealand's commercial and social structure was introduced into cricket. There was an element of pain about it: for a start the entire board of New Zealand Cricket voted themselves out of existence.

But the players who developed from this change were the ones who were on the field at Lord's on Saturday. They represent the professionalism in New Zealand's game that is more than just the money handed over as wages. It is about investment - in skill, in research, in development, and in participation.

More than most countries, again because of the lack of numbers, New Zealand has a healthy appreciation of "team". They rarely possess stars, but they can be moulded into a competitive unit, and that collective product was on display at Lord's.

Bracewell's direction has rounded off a team which had previously produced the odd outstanding performance: the 2000 Champions Trophy, New Zealand's hold over Australia in the 2001-02 Aussie tri-series, and the victory over South Africa in last year's World Cup. But now there is a degree of consistency in success and execution, and the team as a whole is complete enough to be able to consider success in different match situations.

There's the fielding, which was first revved up by Steve Rixon in his time as coach. Then the innovations, enhanced by David Trist and Denis Aberhart, the subsequent coaches. And all this has been supplemented by the sheer nous of Bracewell. It is an exciting development for New Zealand as they contemplate the Champions Trophy in September, followed by twin series against Australia.

It is appropriate, given that "family" aspect of the New Zealand game, that there should be links to those earlier eras, through Bracewell and Harris. Like many of the current side, they have known the hard times - but they have known more of them. That's why the domination New Zealand showed throughout the NatWest Series was never going to be conceded, even if they did have to bat first in the final.

Many experts felt that New Zealand would struggle on the Lord's pitch, but Harris wasn't one of them. On a wicket that might have been transplanted from Eden Park circa 1992, Harris must have known that he would never have a better chance to join Sanath Jayasuriya as the only player to have scored 4000 runs and taken 200 wickets in one-day internationals.

The New Zealanders will leave England with mixed feelings. Unfinished business on the Test front - the next area of concentration for Bracewell and Stephen Fleming - but excitement about where they are going in the one-day game.