Mark Nicholas
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Former Hampshire batsman; host of Channel 9's cricket coverage

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

Mark Nicholas

May 30, 2013

Comments: 26 | Text size: A | A

Glenn Turner hooks, Surrey v Worcestershire, County Championship, 1st day, The Oval, June 11, 1977
Glenn Turner: all about timing and placement © PA Photos
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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

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Posted by pa99 on (June 2, 2013, 23:59 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'.


Posted by electric_loco_WAP4 on (May 31, 2013, 7:03 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 .

Posted by LegByeBeforeICreamPie on (May 31, 2013, 1:33 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!

Posted by regofpicton on (May 31, 2013, 0:35 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!

Posted by dalboy12 on (May 30, 2013, 23:57 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.

Posted by ygkd on (May 30, 2013, 23:04 GMT)

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

Posted by craigm_NZ on (May 30, 2013, 22:27 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.

Posted by ThyrSaadam on (May 30, 2013, 19:13 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 .

Posted by   on (May 30, 2013, 16:39 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.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2013, 15:51 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.

Posted by Herbet on (May 30, 2013, 14:21 GMT)

Its not that Guptil can bat against a white ball but is then inexplicably foxed by a red one. It is context. Guptil can smack a hard white ball delivered just back of, or just over, a good length through a field that is pre-set by the rules, usually with one or no slips. If he does make a mistake, he might even still get 4 runs for it. What he can't do is knuckle down against bowling with a red ball that is specifically being delivered to expose perceived weaknesses in his technique, that doesn't go away after 10 overs, against a field set to get him out, with fielders in his face and a big opposition score on the board. That's the difference. I'm not having a go at Guptil either. That is the difference between any form of limited overs cricket, and proper cricket.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2013, 13:54 GMT)

In a small nation like New Zealand, desperately jealous of their big brothers across the Tasman, everything has been invested in the one thing they have traditionally been any good at: Rugby. Some other sports like cycling, rowing have shown the pioneer spirit and through dedication manage to punch above their true weight, as was once the case with their cricket. The problem is that coaches since Bracewell have seen that one day cricket is an easier format to gain a bit of recognition and concentrated on that at the expense of real cricket. When a country can't even afford to build cricket facilities and have to make do with playing on rugby pitches, gifted sportsmen know they can't make a decent living. Even most of their top rugby players establish international reputations with the All Blacks but then come to Europe to secure the future of their families.

Posted by pauln2 on (May 30, 2013, 13:43 GMT)

Couldn't agree more - we've had many players down the years who were hardly test superstars but had great resolve, put a very high price on their wicket and succeeded as a result. I don't see too many like that now, sad to say. I've seen Kane Williamson play extremely well at times, but he could use a little help. It was looking good in the home summer as 16 for 2 became a thing of unloved memory then, but it's back now. Which must kill the bowlers, who have been good for some time. Any attack that holds the opposition to around 300 in the first innings should keep the side in any test, but the New Zealand bowlers are doing their part only to be let down time and again. We won't see too many NZ wins until both halves of the team are delivering to the same standard.

Posted by Sunshine_Pom on (May 30, 2013, 12:25 GMT)

Like any professional sports set-up, a lot of it comes down to money - New Zealand cricket do not have the funding to hire the best coaches, and therefore improve the players' abilities considerably in the short or long term. Although I agree that there isn't really the hunger for cricket in New Zealand when compared to England, India or Australia, that is not the main reason why NZ cricket will falter for the foreseeable future - they simply lack the funding to create and maintain an all round professional set up that could rival the best sides in the world.

Posted by ArnoldVDH on (May 30, 2013, 11:39 GMT)

And people supposedly don't rate Kallis to highly because he is not flamboyant enough.

The plight of the Black Caps illustrates why Kallis should be worshiped for what he has brought to the Proteas and world cricket

Posted by   on (May 30, 2013, 11:08 GMT)

Looks to me Cricket is declining in New Zealand, the interest in Cricket is at its lowest peak but don't blame them since its a country which has very small population and crazy about Rugby. Even match attendances on Friday's and Weekends is very low. I won't be surprised if a team like Bangladesh surpasses them soon.

Posted by ygkd on (May 30, 2013, 10:42 GMT)

What does need to be recognised is that such batting ailments can't be fixed overnight. Someone like Martin Crowe should be coaching the U19s, who should be screened for long-form capabilities. It is they who will most benefit. Or to put it another way, New Zealand's batting stocks could yet be lower than they are now if the coming generation follow in the current generation's footsteps. The same applies largely to Australia. That doesn't augur well for a quality Trans-Tasman Test in six to ten years time - or for significant gate receipts from such a match for that matter. It could be all over in a day.

Posted by CoverDrive888 on (May 30, 2013, 10:01 GMT)

These comments could be appleid to the Australian top order as well.

Posted by kiwicricketnut on (May 30, 2013, 9:07 GMT)

Mark richardson is another man who needs to help this lot out, he went from a genuine number 11 spin bowler to one of the best openers we have ever had through learning where his off stump is so he could leave everything not threatening those stumps and having a water tight defence, something the current lot just don't have, i know he's a busy man but if he could help our guys out with this and teach them a little bit about patience, its a 5day game not 3, he might actually steel these boys up a bit and ready them for test cricket. Problem is it would take alot of hard work and practice, i can't see any of the current lot putting in the sort of effort richardson did they have it too good.

Posted by ReverseSweepIndia on (May 30, 2013, 9:01 GMT)

if NZ are looking for a coach, it has to be someone who can address exactly the problem mentioned in the article, fragile batting. I will say two men out there, just retired and in a class of their own and when they speak even masters listen leave alone mortals. One is Rahul Dravid and another is M. Hussey. Both loves the challenge and both had been masters in working under the pressure and it had been their bread and butter. NZ will be served real well if they poach any one of them. Even Fleming won't be a bad choice. They have some talented cricketers and able guidance will take them notches higher.

Posted by portman on (May 30, 2013, 8:55 GMT)

Unfortunately I don't see NZ cricket improving at all in the near future. Bowling stocks are good but we really don't have any world class batsmen. Its alright to say Williamson has promise and we need more from McCullum and Taylor but this has all been said before, many times. They still don't produce against any of the good sides. There seems to be a lack of any interest in the longer version of the game from McCullum in particular and he's the captain? He is said to be an innovative captain but what's the use of that when we still lose. Hard decisions have to be made about selection of the test team. We need players who want to play for their countries and not just pick up a paycheck. Martin Crowe should be coaching the team at the expense of the current captain if he is not happy with it.

Posted by ygkd on (May 30, 2013, 7:45 GMT)

Yes, but you could say the same about Australia. Such is the modern way with our instantaneous culture and reverence for the "now". The likes of Martin Crowe and Glenn Turner are not seen in the light that they should be (ie. better in their time than any currently from either side of the Tasman, except possibly for Clarke). Rather, they are seen as a couple of has-beens-who-never-were. Thus, the Wright way becomes the Wrong way and batting is no longer a heavenly art, just a heaving cart ...

Posted by Rixgm7 on (May 30, 2013, 7:22 GMT)

@Pinash Fleming has rulled himself out, he manages and has business deals with to many of thisteam. What we need is a high quality pure batting coach with international experience, unfortunatly all of the kiwis with this background have been alienated for one reason or another, and we cant afford to get in over seas superstars

Posted by Pinarsh255 on (May 30, 2013, 6:27 GMT)

Taylor and McCullam have to play long innings, the counter-attacking 60-70s are all fine but NZ need more from them. To be fair only Williamson looks like a player who wants to play time, play a lot of balls, get behind the line of ball every time. Promising kid. Kiwis need to put at least 350 on the board and then expect their exciting swing attack to finish the job. I would say they are improving, but big hundreds are the call of time for them. Bond has surely helped the quicks, NZ should appoint Fleming as the chief coach.

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Mark Nicholas A prolific and stylish middle-order batsman for Hampshire, Mark Nicholas was unlucky never to have played for England, but after captaining his county to four major trophies he made his reputation as a presenter, commentator and columnist. Named the UK Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005 by the Royal Television Society, he has commentated all over the world, from the World Cup in the West Indies to the Indian Premier League. He now hosts the cricket coverage for Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in England.

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