November 13, 2013

Two steps back for New Zealand

Their showing in Bangladesh seems to have given the lie to the progress they made earlier this year

Apathy can strike even the most ardent cricket follower at some stage in their fan life-cycle. The third dead-rubber ODI on November 3 between New Zealand and Bangladesh was a case in point.

Bangladesh were chasing an unlikely 308 for victory. The New Zealand bowlers served up a smorgasbord that was smeared all about Fatullah by greedy batsmen. They flayed at will, like the ball was hung in a stocking on the backyard clothesline. The television remote was within easy reach. The temptation to channel-surf was compelling. Hmmm. Antiques Roadshow? Reruns of Bergerac? Cupcake Wars? Click, click, click.

Such a state of cricketing ennui has seeped into the New Zealand fan base. Mark Richardson - or more accurately his wife - summed it up when, in a Herald on Sunday newspaper column, he said they switched over to watch the first ODI. Her first reaction was: "The Black Caps are playing? Oh, nobody would even know this s**t is on." And that was before they lost.

With the All Blacks rugby team beginning their annual northern hemisphere tour, the rugby league World Cup underway in Britain and France, and the All Whites football team embarking on their World Cup qualifier against Mexico, cricket has been bumped from the national sporting consciousness. That's the most dangerous place it can be for New Zealand Cricket.

In 15 months, NZC has aspirations it can emulate the heroics of those who entertained the public so gallantly at the 1992 World Cup. The 2015 World Cup organisers could be forgiven for sobbing into their cocoa, given the New Zealand team's latest escapade. Still, it bodes well for Bangladesh, who like Sri Lanka in the 1990s are showing signs of awakening.

Bangladesh have been touted, by a patronising element of fans, as minnows, yet it was New Zealand who looked like cricketing plankton in the recent 3-0 ODI series defeat, backing up from the 4-0 margin in 2010. As a consequence, New Zealand, with 84 points on the international rankings compared to Bangladesh's 83, are flirting with a return to ninth in the world.

NZC chief executive David White perhaps summed up the situation best when he said the ODI series loss reflected "two steps forward, one step back" after wins in South Africa and England this year. However, the statement must also be tempered by a rain-affected exit from the Champions Trophy when an advance to the semi-finals was within grasp.

Other factors have exacerbated the situation. The decision, prior to the Bangladesh ODIs, to bring the captain, Brendon McCullum, and Ross Taylor home before the Sri Lankan leg to prepare them for the West Indies Tests probably held merit, given it appeared to be another meaningless set of ODIs, the likes of which have become a by-product of the otherwise admirable Future Tours Programme.

In 15 months, NZC has aspirations it can emulate the heroics of those who entertained the public so gallantly at the 1992 World Cup. The 2015 World Cup organisers could be forgiven for sobbing into their cocoa, given the New Zealand team's latest escapade

Instead - with the value of hindsight - it raises questions about whether the Bangladesh tour as a whole was treated with enough gravitas. The lead-up appeared to be planned meticulously, with the use of a development tour to India and Sri Lanka to give younger players a chance to adapt to subcontinental conditions. Whether a number of those same players should then have advanced straight into the national side in Bangladesh (and now Sri Lanka) needs to be evaluated. Sixteen out of 21 used on that A tour have played for New Zealand in some format. It makes the point of whether the value of international caps has become diluted moot. Sometimes the number of incumbent domestic players to have represented New Zealand seems like a cast to rival the likes of Aida.

Ironically, interest in how the New Zealanders fare against West Indies and India this summer could be keen. Fans will demand a respectable showing to reflect the supposed development of the team, as seen particularly in ODIs earlier this year.

The player likely to receive the most focus is McCullum. The onus remains on him to score more runs. He is yet to lead New Zealand to a Test victory; since he took over near the end of 2012, there have been six wins, seven losses and a no-result in 14 ODIs (there was also a loss and a no-result in matches he missed), and a T20 record of three wins, four losses and one no-result.

McCullum initially appeared to be spurred by the leadership, resulting in form against England last summer, but that has ebbed. His Test average of 29.64 with the captaincy - compared to 34.98 overall - will be scrutinised, especially considering he hasn't made a Test century in three years. The level of analysis might depend on how well Jesse Ryder performs in the Plunket Shield, given the hint he is ready to return to the international ranks.

Not helping the New Zealand cause is the fact that today marks the first anniversary of the hotel meeting between Ross Taylor and team management that saw him lose the captaincy in one of NZC's most notorious controversies. The incident still haunts talkback radio and social-media forums on occasion; it received a burst of oxygen following the Bangladesh series defeat. While Taylor's ODI form has been strong since that 2012 Sri Lanka tour (averaging 50.70 in 12 matches, including two centuries, compared to a career average of 39.15), his Test form has waned (averaging 37.10 in seven Tests, with no centuries, compared to 42.81 overall). New Zealand have suffered.

Once the current Sri Lankan series plods to an end with the second T20 on November 21, there are 12 days until the first Test against West Indies in Dunedin. It'll be sad for cricket if some say, "Who cares?" Only the players, led by McCullum, can halt such bleakness. Otherwise more fans could be making the switch to Antiques Roadshow.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Paul on November 16, 2013, 16:07 GMT

    McCullum is an excellent short form player.

    In Tests, he needs to put the gloves back on, or be dropped. It really is that simple.

    How they can make a guy captain that barely deserves a spot in the side is beyond me. Honestly.

  • Dummy4 on November 14, 2013, 20:02 GMT

    I'm an Indian, and have been a great fan and an outside observer of New Zealand cricket since the glory days of Stephen Flemming, Shane Bond and Vettori (at his best). To be quite honest it is both frustrating and worrying that New Zealand haven't managed to pull of an ODI win against Bangladesh in the last 7 matches they've played there. What baffles me the most is McCullum's approach? What kind of a leader is he if he's been part of two hat tricks against a Bangladeshi attack and that too in successive matches. He needs to control those rash shots of his because they're taking him nowhere and are reflective of an overall deterioration of NZ cricket since Bond and Fleming retired.

  • David on November 14, 2013, 6:33 GMT

    Sorry Andrew you are off track here. The Banga's are preparing pitches that suit their team, drawing huge crowd support and played some lovely cricket over the series. They will struggle away as all teams do statistically. Results show they are getting stronger and stronger at home and will continue to.

    Historically they are following the path of all subcontinent teams before them who are all notoriously hard to beat at home but struggle away.

    Two furthers comments: Shakib Al Hasan is a total class act and shows why he's the number 2 all rounder in the world. Black Caps really don't have anyone in the same class. They have a terrific attitude and you can see the players are now starting to have belief in themselves.

    The Black Caps put in some good performances but the constantly changing personel hurt them. Kane Williamson getting injured, who is the best player in the BC atm was the last nail in the coffin.

  • Saif on November 14, 2013, 3:38 GMT

    I think that losing to Bangladesh is more of an indication that Banglaesh have improved by leaps in their own conditions. NZ is good in pacier conditions, and tho they had lots of A-tours this time round, the better team did win on the day. Doesn't mean this method is bad, just means the other side as better. Having said that, NZ have a woeful test record, and im impressed the batsmen are finally trying to get ready for a test series, shows the respect finally shown towards preparation. They may still flop, but they're talented, they might just click. These A-tours, and prep ork will show results in2-3 years, and as a suffering kiwi fan, I rather see some work in the background, than years of "we're rebuilding, and waiting for jesse ryder to save us" as the excuse, as neither is gonna happen, till u help urself.

  • David on November 13, 2013, 21:58 GMT

    Rankings shmankings. Since this article was written, NZs ranking has gone up 2 points on the back of a rain-affected 23 over luck-fest in Sri Lanka. Does it mean we're suddenly a better team than we were 2 days ago? Of course not. What the majority of NZ supporters want is for our team to be competitive, and our performances this year almost without exception have been that. The results will come, so let's not all panic just yet.

  • stewey on November 13, 2013, 19:22 GMT

    As a staunch NZ fan, I always look forward to matches we play in anticipation of winning. Far too often though, excitement turns to disappointment, and on goes the XBox cricket where I can take my frustration out on the opposition.

    Despite the lack of consistency, NZ are still worth the watch, and they can upset the best of teams. Some players do need to step up, McCullum in particular. The younger players are starting to shine (Anderson, etc), and with Ryder back in contention, I do believe a resurgent NZ in future.

  • paul on November 13, 2013, 18:12 GMT

    No one does care..... really, how can you take NZC seriously when we are told by NZC that Taylor is home to play red ball cricket, yet it appears he has no red ball cricket until after the touring Black Caps arrive back home. So why is he not in Sir Lanka? The fans have been treated like idiots since the Taylor affair will not be a team led by McCullum that will turn NZC around, it will be the new board moving on those who were responsible for the disgraceful act and the public damage caused since. Until then, NZC will have no credibility.

  • Dummy4 on November 13, 2013, 14:29 GMT

    Andrew Alderson you are a disgrace!!

  • jared on November 13, 2013, 10:08 GMT

    I honestly don't see the loss to bangladesh as such a huge step backwards, they are about as foreign as conditions can get for a nz cricketer and they are a tough odi opponent in their conditions, recent series victories over south africa and england in conditions more like our own is a better guage of where we are at, after all the world cup is in our back yard not the sub continent, what i would consider a huge step backwards is losing to the windies and india at home this summer, we are currently in a position to win 3 out of the last 4 series abroad against good opposition which is something to be proud of and can only be seen as progress but winning at home is of utmost importance so every team fears playing nz in the world cup.

  • Shane on November 13, 2013, 9:50 GMT

    Comments on here suggest that people still aren't waking up to the fact that the days of Bangladesh being easybeats are gone. I'm not saying he series wasn't disappointing - just that people need to start showing respect to Bangladesh. And beating 2 of the top teams in their own backyards definitely shows more development than losing to Bangladesh in their backyard shows a step backward. Let's not be silly now, in our rush to vilify the Black Caps.

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