May 30, 2013

What New Zealand need is orthodox coaching

They need to relearn the art of long-form batting if they are to ever dominate an attack like their great predecessors Turner and Crowe did

It is not easy being New Zealand cricket. The place is rugby-mad. Cricketers bust a gut but are hardly appreciated. They become chippy about it and then find themselves chippy with each other. From Turner to Taylor, there are not many Black Capped fellows who have dinner together. At least there did not used to be. Things are better now, though the relationship between Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor must be tricky. Friction comes from small communities and within the egos of a few strong swimmers attempting to make good their opportunity in a goldfish bowl.

Glenn Turner was the first outstanding New Zealand player of the modern television age. On the tour to England in 1973 he made 2416 runs at an average of 67 to top the national averages ahead of Geoffrey Boycott and Rohan Kanhai. That is how good he was. His name was made in a county career at Worcestershire, where locals talked of him in the same breath as two Richards - Viv and Barry - and Greg Chappell. High praise.

The Dunedin man's skill was in timing and placement. From an usually high and strong grip off the bat handle, he could thread a drive through any field setting and had an extraordinary ability to chip clever shots over the in-field, a particular advantage in the one-day game, where he became almost impossible to contain. They said he was weak against the short ball but he made two Test hundreds against West Indies and on the tour to the Caribbean in 1971-72 scored four double-hundreds in all matches. Agreed, these were not the West Indians of such terror that came later but you still have to get them. He is one of only four non-English batsmen to make a thousand runs before the end of May - also achieved on that '73 tour - and is in good company with Sir Donald Bradman, Zaheer Abbas and Viv Richards. I could go on. Turner has a remarkable record, even if his final Test match average of 44.6 was a tad beneath expectation.

Martin Crowe, the other exceptional New Zealand batsman of the age, would argue the same about his own Test match average of 45.3. They picked him before he was ready and flogged him when his wretched knee had given in. Still, he made pretty good, and, alongside Sir Richard Hadlee and other earthy types such John Wright and Ian Smith, gave his country a respected name in the cricket brotherhood and an improved record in the history books.

Everything about Crowe was orthodox, from his grip and stance to the execution of each shot. He played fast bowling especially well at a time when there was a plethora of the stuff, ranging from Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, through the full West Indian montage and on to Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Crowe played the ball late, refusing to let his hands escape him and thus was one of the few to cope with fast reverse swing. Indeed, Akram believes Crowe to be the best he bowled to. Very high praise, given the options. Big hundreds in Guyana in 1985, Brisbane later that year and Lord's in 1994 are the innings that receive most acclaim, though he constructed a match-saving 299 against Sri Lanka in Wellington, falling almost mistakenly to Arjuna Ranatunga's gentle fare. Dismayed he said: "It's a bit like climbing Everest and pulling a hamstring in the last stride." Later, he figured it was not so bad to hold that magical Test match number with Bradman alone.

Such nostalgic reminiscence of these two fine cricketers comes in the wake of New Zealand's feeble batting at Lord's and Headingley. For sure, they faced a terrific English bowling attack but it is not unplayable. The darling buds of May rarely help batsmen, especially when the air is thick with damp and seam bowlers preen their feathers. But May is not a month in which Graeme Swann should be snaring ten-wicket bags.

Everything about Crowe was orthodox, from his grip and stance to the execution of each shot. He played fast bowling especially well at a time when there was a plethora of the stuff

McCullum admitted that his team fell short in technique, which means head position, body shape, control of the bat, footwork and even perhaps a need to watch the ball more closely. Shot selection was poor too and never better illustrated than by attempted cover drives against Swann. Of course, it is not everyone who can bat like Turner or Crowe. But the good player can apply himself like, say, Wright or Stephen Fleming from one era and Bevan Congdon from another.

Increasingly, cricket people talk of the need to entertain. Entertainment is a buzzword of the IPL, in which a number of New Zealand's present best make a fine return. Big bats and hits, hard hands, static footwork and left-side clearance all work well in the pursuit of ten an over but are worthless against the moving ball in a Test match. The art of long-form batting, of making hardcore hundreds that live with you for life, has left the land of the long white cloud in favour of less demanding gratification that comes with innings that last for just 20 overs.

New Zealand's batsmen look as if they need some old-fashioned coaching - hours in the nets, hitting thousands of balls the orthodox way. For a time Wright was in charge, but the appointment of John Buchanan moved him to remark: "It's fair to say I'm better coaching against John Buchanan than with him" and he rode off into the sunset. Wright understood young cricketers and could still convince them of traditional thinking. He did this in India, riding the Kolkata storm created by Jagmohan Dalmiya and Sourav Ganguly, while still impressing Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar.

Fleming himself must surely have a role at home and not just in Chennai with their Super Kings. New Zealand must work as one if they are to prosper in Test matches. Practice, preparation - there was only one rain-affected first-class game before the Lord's Test - and important contributions from those who truly know what it is to be a successful Black Caps cricketer in the international arena are all essential components of bringing New Zealand cricket back into shape. After all, the greatest Kiwi pleasure was being a pain in the opponent's backside. Some spit and sawdust might just make that possible again.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • pervez on June 2, 2013, 22:59 GMT

    Although I agree with Mark N, methinks the classy Bert Sutcliffe should be tagged as NZ's first great batsman. Any feedback on this?

    Secondly,yes, more application is required from the NZ batsmen. In this context I am reminded of what Sunil Gavaskar used to say - 'the first hour belongs to the bowler. The rest of the day belongs to me'.


  • sam on May 31, 2013, 6:03 GMT

    Sorry to say this , but cricket as a sport is in its last legs in NZ and team's fortunes truly mirror this predicament . With sparse crowds in the grounds to see the int. games in their home season , even against a team like SA it is just a sign of how far removed the public are from cricket . To add, the financial struggles of the board and the priorities of their stars to chase leagues like IPL over and above int. games mean the Taylors and Mc Cullums will be only seen in the IPL in a while .

  • richard on May 31, 2013, 0:33 GMT

    NZ need to play more test cricket. Brendon McCullum has oft recently said that they want to play longer series against the best sides but have to earn that right. Well, why not look to play 3,4, hell even 5 test series against the likes of West Indies and Bangladesh? They are around the same level as us, so would likely be keen for a long test series as well, and if we are supposedly above the likes of the latter then we will dominate, win the series and earn the right to play long test series against Australia, India then the top teams. I bet even Pakistan could be persuaded to play 4 tests in NZ or Abu Dhabi right now!

  • Reg on May 30, 2013, 23:35 GMT

    If i might fill in a couple of lines between the Mark Nicholas' words, what NZ need is a coach! Hesson has been a total, utter, complete, unmitigated disaster. He disrupted the team structure when he fired Taylor as captain, and his own performance has been worse than lamentable. Every knowledgable radio and TV commentator has referred to the lack of intensity in our fielding (an area where we led the world!), and now we learn that on the last morning at Headingley they didn't even have a net!! This is just disgraceful. But its all part of the same story of abject failure.

    We have an excellent bowling coach AND IT SHOWS. We have virtually no batting coach AND IT SHOWS. And we have no head coach at all (in both senses of the word) AND MY GOD HOW IT SHOWS!

  • Dale on May 30, 2013, 22:57 GMT

    Sure we are rugby mad, and don't underestimate the rise in League either. The problem is that rugby and league are starting earlier as well. Like this year the main tour was England, and that didn't start until super rugby had also started. Cricket is still the leading summer game in NZ, what we really need is a couple of big tours in January, early Feb - when people are on holiday and before rugby has started. If England and SA (the year before) had toured during this time --- then I reckon crowds and general interest would have been a lot higher. If these big tours don't start till March they are going to be competing with league and rugby and they are going to lose. Especially, if the team isn't doing well. All it will take to get a lot of interest in cricket in NZ is a good NZ win over good opposition actually Jan/early Feb in NZ --- and I mean a test or ODI series win not t20.

  • Philip on May 30, 2013, 22:04 GMT

    @Herbet - your description of Guptil's capabilities is one of the more succinct comments I've seen on this site.

  • Craig on May 30, 2013, 21:27 GMT

    I think Mark Nicholas might have made a slight error here. I think GMT is one of only 2 overseas batsmen to score 1000 runs before the end of May - Bradman being the other (and he did it twice). This of course assumes Graeme Hick was not an overseas batsman. The quartet that GMT does belong to - alongside Sir Donald, Sir Viv and Zaheer - is the 100 first class hundreds club. His average as an opening batsman in test cricket of 45.6 (he played 5 innings in the middle order) compares favourably with the 38.3 that opposing opening batsmen managed in that same matches.

  • Anand on May 30, 2013, 18:13 GMT

    At the end of the day it is down to the player. One would imagine that while representing your nation, a player would not still required to be guided. Well yes, they may need some help, but there is no need to hold hands and help them cross the bridge. Today's cricketers don't often seem to take pride in representing their countries. I wish i could roll back the days to before t20. Its very hard to see the demise in quality of cricket .

  • Dummy4 on May 30, 2013, 15:39 GMT

    Appoint the Rahul Dravid as New Zealand Coach because they need technique, patience, shot-selection method and willing to fight for your save the wicket for team and for country. Rahul Dravid is best person for this.

  • Dummy4 on May 30, 2013, 14:51 GMT

    It's interesting that Mark Nicholas compares the batting of Stephen Fleming and John Wright, to the present day New Zealand team, saying the latter is more suited to the IPL style. The irony is that both Fleming and Wright were the coaches of the two teams that made the IPL finals.

    For the record, I do agree with what Mark says.