December 14, 2012

Have New Zealand lost the ability to dream?

Individual players may be suffering in the pursuit of the collective good

Without a dream to chase, the soul stagnates. Without a dream, individual expression stalls as it looks around for an avenue, a release, a path to go down. Dreams are what move us forward; without them we are stuck. That's what I believe.

As the profound American philosopher Henry David Thoreau said in the 19th century: "Do not lose hold of your dreams or aspirations. For if you do, you may still exist but you have ceased to live."

Over the last decade watching cricket in New Zealand I have noticed a change, a massive shift, in the development of our young men, our cricketing soldiers.

The change occurred with the formation of the players association in 2002. While the intention of better this and better that was the war cry, the reality was that each individual who signed up gave up his ability to grow and to blossom into something unique.

Each man became programmed to the collective cause. Each player fell into line, trusting a new way that promised an abundance of riches and protection from all evils. They asked for more resources and more facilities, and they looked away from the greatest tool of all - their own ability to dream big.

When they signed up, they gave away their freedom to express themselves. Their personal dreams became irrelevant. They were squeezed to one side, crushed by the desire to stick with the programme - the conditions, the clauses, the resources, all under the almighty collective.

What we have seen since in New Zealand's game on the field is a mirrored approach, a cloning of ways, a method of asking for more assistance from outside. We see no one individual looking within and in doing so reaching out to new horizons, new frontiers. Most of all, they aren't inspiring the young to dream big either. New Zealand cricket has ceased to live.

My memories of the men I joined as a young tyro are still fresh. These were players who had individual expression and purpose. They belonged to no one; they were free and secure in the knowledge that playing cricket for New Zealand was a badge of honour. Each knew it wouldn't last too long and that the privilege of wearing the blazer was symbolically borrowed and protected. It was worn with immense pride.

Each had a badge of his own: Bruce Edgar was tenacious, John Wright true grit, Jeremy Coney was theatrical, Jeff Crowe silky smooth, John Reid an artist, Andrew Jones unique, Richard Hadlee a genius, Ian Smith a natural, Warren Lees fatherly, Stephen Boock bold, Evan Gray steely, John Bracewell a bully, Ewen Chatfield honest, Lance Cairns resourceful, and Martin Snedden smart and thoughtful. These were men who stood their ground for good long periods. They fought the fight for their country; they played with their hearts and they believed in their dreams.

During a rich period through the 1980s, New Zealand did not lose a Test series at home for over a decade. We didn't always win but we never gave an inch. It was a bunch of individual spirits joining at the hip to throw off all challengers. This was not a group joined by a document. The blazer was a symbol of manning up.

We weren't a "mafia", as Stephen Fleming likes to refer to us. We weren't dysfunctional either. We were simply living that moment, together. It was unwritten.

Today the collective has killed off that natural right to grow and flourish, to dream and reach out. Ross Taylor is the only one I know who wants to be the best in the world, the best batsman in his nation's history. It's a worthy pursuit. The chances are he will get there one day. Without it he stops living as a cricketer.

Young men need to dream big. They need the chase. They need the pursuit. What they don't need is to sit around a lobby. Set them free. Let them live.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand