Wins, losses, injuries, Vettori
August 23 last year. Daniel Vettori was named a bonafide vote-holding member of the national selection committee. New Zealand Cricket had arranged a teleconference for the press, since Vettori was in Colombo. The first question told the story of New Zealand's 2009 in cricket.
"Dan, captain, leading bowler, leading batsman, now selector. Does Justin Vaughan [CEO, NZC] need to worry about his job?" Laughs all around. Months later coach Andy Moles went out, and that job went to Vettori too. Forget Vaughan, at this rate Prime Minister John Key's job is not safe. One man having to do so much is not desirable for any team, but that the said man was as good as Vettori was a consolation.
Their dream run to the final of the Champions Trophy marked the start of another part of their story this year - one that has for years been a damning aspect of their game. Jacob Oram went down first, with an injury that also signalled the end of his Test career. Jesse Ryder, by then irreplaceable in the Test middle order and as a limited-overs opener, was out of action for the rest of the year. Numerous others recovered and came back, but in December, Shane Bond's body told him it couldn't take the rigours of Test cricket anymore; workhorse Iain O'Brien found county cricket and family life in England more inviting; and a team known for making the most of limited resources was left with even fewer supplies. Six other big players found it difficult to choose between their IPL franchises and New Zealand, but that crisis was averted. For the time being. All-in-one Vettori had no choice but to delay the surgery his bowling shoulder needs. What will New Zealand do if their Atlas goes out for six months to a year?
New Zealand will have realised in 2009 that Tests are not won by two batsmen - Ross Taylor and Ryder - and a Vettori. The only Test they won in the year - their first win in 13 months (in 20, if one win against Bangladesh is not counted) - was Bond's only Test of the year. And Bond was instrumental in bowling Pakistan out twice. The only other two occasions New Zealand managed 20 wickets in a match were both against Pakistan: in both instances it either cost them too many runs or too much time. Couple that with their weak batting, save for Taylor and Ryder, and it's no surprise the ICC ranks them below Pakistan, who didn't even play Test cricket for 14 months, and kept collapsing inexplicably every other innings upon their return.
A few positives could be drawn from the Tests, the most significant being the coming together of Taylor and Ryder, who both averaged 50-plus, in the middle order. With Vettori and Brendon McCullum to follow in the line-up, a strong core was formed. The top three and the bowling, though, were one area too many to be concerned about.
A pleasant surprise or three were in order for the limited-overs contests. Martin Guptill's free-spirited batting and Grant Elliott's smart bits-and-piecery were the big gains. With Bond coming back, Kyle Mills regaining form, and Vettori in superb limited-overs nick, the ODI team looked much more settled. What's more, Bond will continue playing the shorter format. New Zealand received a hiding from India at home and didn't impress in the Sri Lanka tri-series, but did well elsewhere.
In February they hopped across the sea and stunned Australia by grabbing a 2-0 lead in the ODI series. When rain ended the final match, with the scoreline at 2-2, New Zealand needed 33 from six overs, with four wickets in hand. Their Champions Trophy run to the final was one to savour. In their final ODI assignment of the year, in foreign conditions, they got the better of Pakistan, with McCullum taking charge of the top order and leading the comeback from 0-1. Twenty20s were a mixed bag: New Zealand cleaned up against India and Sri Lanka, but disappointed in the World Twenty20 and were cleaned up by Pakistan. Played 12, won six, lost six - numbers never told a story better.
The Champions Trophy. An ICC event coming on the back of a disastrous campaign in the World Twenty20. A poor start with a facile five-wicket loss. In the second match, Ryder injured himself, but before ending his tournament he went bonkers and blasted a 28-ball 50, and New Zealand were on their way to something special. With every match they kept losing a player but kept gaining in resolve, until they lost Vettori just before the final. Still Bond and Mills stretched Australia despite a modest total. It was New Zealand's third semi-final or better in the last four ICC events.
Had he not come back and shown he still had it in him to produce seven-over spells of hostile bowling around 150kph, it wouldn't perhaps have been that sad. But Bond took eight wickets to win New Zealand their only Test of the year and tore an abdominal muscle in the process. Dunedin was a heartbreaking reminder of what was slipping out of our hands, and sure enough, two days before Christmas came the retirement call. When will the next Test win come?
New kid on the block
He may have only two toes on his front foot - and that's exactly where the bowlers don't want him. Guptill was one of the batting finds after the vacuum left by Stephen Fleming, Nathan Astle and Craig McMillan. When he was recovering from a forklift accident, Guptill was visited in hospital by Fleming. Nine years later Guptill started his New Zealand career in the same Fleming-like opener-No. 3 role, and broke Fleming's New Zealand record for highest score on ODI debut. His 122 not out against West Indies was the second-highest debut score overall. His Test game needs tightening up, but with 738 runs at 41 he was a definite hit in the ODIs.
What 2010 holds
The three big full series will be hosting Australia and touring India, and actually hosting Pakistan. Then there is the ICC World Twenty20.
It will be interesting to see how New Zealand's hunt for Test openers, at least one quick strike bowler, a coach, harmony between club and country commitments, and elusive wins against major Test nations goes.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo