August 28, 2012

New Zealand need to woo their fans back

Spineless performances will have made their supporters feel jaded. To make them care once again, some of New Zealand's players will need to play exceptionally

There is one thing worse than fans being frustrated by the New Zealand team's capitulations to South Africa, West Indies and India since February. It's their apathy.

The "couldn't care less" curtains appear to have been drawn on most cricketing matters in New Zealand of late. Much of the evidence is anecdotal but will presumably be reflected in statistics like television viewer numbers and website hits, if flaky performances like the innings-and-115-run loss in Hyderabad pervade further results.

Since South Africa's arrival in February, New Zealand have lost four out of their last six Tests, seven out of eight one-dayers and four out of five Twenty20s. Hopes of leaping over West Indies in the ranking tables were extinguished. The might of India now towers over the New Zealand agenda.

The days are gone when groups of like-minded cricket fans could debate for hours the merits of New Zealand tactics, strategy and personnel, and their chances of success or failure. Cricket was the indisputable summer game. Few such debates ignite these days. There was a fleeting glimpse after New Zealand's Test victory in Hobart last year but the insurance of public goodwill from that has long been spent.

Compounding this apparent lack of cricketing interest has been New Zealand's Olympic success in London. Kiwi sports fans revelled in a haul of 13 medals (six gold, two silver, five bronze), equalling the country's best cumulative effort at the Games. Rowers, sailors, cyclists, horse riders, a shot putter and a kayaker rose to prominence by virtue of their dedication to excellence. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the country's best cricketers reverted to anonymity as they floundered in the Caribbean.

The whole Olympic escapade hinted at a shifting of the guard in the New Zealand summer game, albeit momentarily. Gold medals aside, there is little chance of any sport usurping cricket because of the incomes that can be derived from bat and ball in the modern T20 world. Top rowers now make a decent living from their Olympic and world championship successes but medals cannot match the lure of six- and seven-figure annual sums for aspiring young athletes.

Yet a catalyst has to be found to give New Zealand's cricket a fillip on the international stage. Winston Churchill once said: "It's not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what's required." New Zealand's current situation mirrors that. No one doubts the players are doing their best but someone needs to dredge something special from their mental core to reverse the submissive trend.

In Hyderabad, Brendon McCullum's alleged inside edge on to his pad which was given lbw is still no excuse for the team losing their last nine wickets for 66 runs. It is a travesty the DRS was not in place but that cannot expunge the lack of application in twin sub 165-run scores. Ross Taylor's reference to the team's inability to play quality spin is hardly a mitigating factor. R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha took 18 of the 20 wickets in the Test but so much cricket is played on the subcontinent these days that playing spin forms a mandatory part of any genuine international player's batting armoury.

The loss has highlighted the need for someone to exceed expectations. Kane Williamson is the obvious candidate, given his current form - his 32 and 52 in the first Test formed 26% of New Zealand's runs - and proven ability to weather bowling tormentors. That was demonstrated when he secured a draw with a century in Wellington against South Africa in March. Williamson will need partners to produce anywhere near what is required to challenge India in the second Test in Bangalore. Support on the bowling front would also help so batsmen are not daunted by a number like India's 438 sneering from the scoreboard.

Ardent supporters will be pleading the New Zealanders can seek redemption; the more fickle will have already flicked channels to domestic rugby or perhaps the latest in Olympic sport. New Zealand's cricketers have to begin winning them back.

Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ed on August 30, 2012, 0:21 GMT

    As a NZ fan, here's my wish list. Bring someone like Craig McMillan into the assistant role. Work on ditching the 'couldn't care less' attitude which some players seem to have (Ross Taylor batting in the last test would be a good example) ditch Vettori for a young spinner who can grow into the role. Forget ODI's, play a young B team for that as a way to blood young players. Concentrate on T20 and Tests. Find a young opening batsman to open with McCullum, move Guptil to number 3 or 4.

  • Samrat on August 29, 2012, 21:10 GMT

    NZ should bite the bullet and bring Ryder back. The trouble is most of their players look like they have been picked from the fans' pool not cricketers' pool.

  • Beau on August 29, 2012, 5:28 GMT

    It's not always easy at the moment, but I think fans and commentators alike need to keep a sense of perspective about this side. Take Chris Martin out, and the average age drops to about 24 or 25. Southee is still only 23, Kane has just turned 22, Bracewell & Boult are both 21! What we are looking at is a side in a *genuine* rebuilding phase, rather than just using that term as an excuse for poor performces as the big sides do.Yes, McCullum & Taylor have failed to adapt their games to what is required of senior batsmen, and NZ haven't fielded the best side available for some time. Franklin's inclusion is overdue but he is a batsman these days, Nethula deserves a chance, and Boult should open the bowling *with* either Southee or Wagner. But even with these problems, the SA Test series was one woeful collapse short of a pretty good tussle, and poor catching cost them dearly against WI. Not nearly as dire a situation as recent results indicate.

  • Nathan on August 29, 2012, 3:10 GMT

    The game plan of prodding forward from the crease all day is the same one we have been using since i first starting watching our cricket 30 years ago. We haven't improved that area of our game at all since then. We've had the odd batsman be successful at times such as Sir Marty Crowe but generally speaking we have been ordinary. We need to take a look around the world at players who have been successful against quality spin, copy their game plan, practise it and get good at it. You'll find that that game plan includes batsman using their feet and coming down the wicket. Ponting and Clarke come to mind as players that were very hard for spinners to bowl to because every 3rd or 4th ball, they'd be coming down the wicket at you. That forces the spinner to change his game plan. It's high time our guys changed theirs.

  • D on August 29, 2012, 1:27 GMT

    My two bits: Bring back Andre Adams from the cold. Since Fleming won't coach, have someone like Craig McMillan have an assistant coaching role in the team. Actually, given the state of the current batting lineup, I think Macca would be able to slot right back into the team to provide some middle order blood'n'guts.

  • Dale on August 28, 2012, 23:20 GMT

    There is actually a bit talk about the cricket here in NZ, especially on sport radio. We are in the middle of rugby season and the local league team is in crisis as well so that is dominating things. But to say we are only into Rugby is wrong and stupid - how did we win 13 medals incl 6 golds (remembering Rugby isn't even there yet) at the Olympics which is pretty good for a nation of 4.5 million. Anyway, we have been cutting our own throats a bit -- why go and play a WI team that has come off hard series against England and Aussie after a long break without cricket, then try and play India at home without so much as a warm up game. No wonder we struggle. Our bowlers are not too bad, not like they can complete with SA line-up but Bracewell is only 21 and Boult is only 23 this is there 1st time playing in these conditions and they will be better for it and they look promising for the future. Our batting is the problem.

  • Philip on August 28, 2012, 21:27 GMT

    NZ has just lost another Wright. Something is obviously Wrong. At the top.

  • Ivan on August 28, 2012, 20:22 GMT

    hey firstly id like to say well done to New Zealand for making the batting changes the were needed with the no 3 osition having Kane Williamson there is a great move and its starting to pay off his 52 in the second innings was good expect that shot that got him out he plays spin well smothers the ball and that what the other new zealand batsmen need to do no excuses kep up the good work Kane

  • Dummy4 on August 28, 2012, 16:27 GMT

    Shed the T20 mindset, Ross!! Stop trying to slog everything on the leg side!

    How I miss Mark Richardson now!

  • Dummy4 on August 28, 2012, 13:13 GMT

    I'm pretty sure sides like Bangladesh can beat NZ 2 times outta 5 at least. Whats worse is that sides like NZ have been around playing mediocre cricket since time immemorial but nations with obvious talent like Ireland can do no more but lose stars to strengthen England who in turn relish in the success of these imported stars, covering their obvious shortfall of homegrown talent. Sad situation overall.

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