July 15, 2002

Aberhart reflects on a first season to remember

Creating competition for places in most areas of the New Zealand side had been one of the most significant features to come out of the extended season which ended with a Test series triumph in the West Indies.

For coach Denis Aberhart, who took over the role of coach in September last year, it has been a roller-coaster ride dominated by international events as much as action on the field of play.

His first tour to Pakistan, halted while the team waited to change flights in Singapore, courtesy of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, never took place.

As a result he was left having to prepare a side for a major tour of Australia with no serious match play behind them.

His second tour to Pakistan involved the record-breaking Test loss suffered in the first Test before a terrorist bomb outside the team's hotel brought an early end to that tour.

In the meantime his team had a highly creditable tour of Australia, winning a place in the VB Series finals, headed off Test newcomers Bangladesh twice inside three playing days, and came back to draw a Test series with England, and then the side won the first Test, and series, by a New Zealand team in the West Indies.

Test match-wise he had every reason to be pleased with the summer, but admitted the one-day game was still causing some problems, and in the months before a World Cup that had to be a concern.

"I have been disappointed in some of the performances in the one-dayers. We need more consistency.

"But all the time we have been trying things and I think we're getting closer to the players we want to give us the leading edge," he said.

Aberhart was especially pleased with the way the all-round depth was developing. With Chris Cairns back, and Scott Styris, Andre Adams and Jacob Oram all contesting for places the situation was very healthy.

There were wicket-keeping options open to the selectors while there were also batting options. The only real concern in both the one-day and Test areas had been the lack of a player putting their hand up to be the back-up spinner to Daniel Vettori.

Overall, however, there was more depth and Aberhart said it was now a case of, "those performing the best will be the ones selected."

The lack of consistency in the batting of the TelstraClear Black Caps, he felt, was something to do with the type of players New Zealand had now. They were all reasonably aggressive types of players.

There could be more mental toughness, so that after achieving good results in one game, they could back up in another.

He had been delighted with the way the team recovered their position in the first Test in the West Indies in the first innings, and then with the way they lower-order knuckled down to save the second Test.

There were no surprises for Aberhart in taking on the position of coach. He had worked with many of the players at lower levels of the game and it was just a case of working with them as individuals and then as a team.

The tactical approach used against the Australians, to such telling effect in the Test series where the method of not playing unnecessarily at Glenn McGrath, and refusing to allow Shane Warne to dominate, had been borne out of observations from last year's Ashes series.

"Our plans were more obvious in the Australian series than in others, but it is something we prepare for when we play all teams.

"In the one-dayers, the South Africans played pretty well and we couldn't get through them. We couldn't break their pattern.

"Jonty Rhodes batted well and played some fine innings, Makhaya Ntini bowled well and Mark Boucher also hit well against us.

"We found their style of play more challenging than the Australians," he said.

But New Zealand had beaten them in one game, and got close in two others, so it hadn't all been bad news and the players learned plenty from those contacts and will look to benefit from that in future matches.

Having fast bowler Shane Bond emerge had been useful to the team's success.

"We saw that in the West Indies. It makes a huge difference to have someone who can come in and put batsmen under pressure by consistently bowling over 140kph," he said.

Overall the New Zealanders now had a fairly settled top six, with Matt Horne and Mathew Sinclair challenging for places in the side.

At this stage no-one could be certain of their places because the pressure was on to perform. Aberhart said that for the moment Lou Vincent remained a Test-side opening option as he had served the team well there.

Chris Harris would have been disappointed with his return in the West Indies and needed to take his chance to show that he could as consistently at Test level as he can at first-class level.

Having got the side into a Test-playing groove, Aberhart is not concerned that with only two Test matches this year and a plethora of One-Day Internationals, that something might be lost in terms of the side's momentum.

"This year is quite different because of the World Cup, but it [the lack of Test play] is not a major concern. It is a different approach but once the Cup is over I'm sure we will have plenty of Test cricket to play," he said.

His greatest satisfaction from the summer was the way less-experienced players stepped up to perform at international level.

He also felt many more runs would now be forthcoming from captain Stephen Fleming after the two Test centuries he scored during the summer.

Fleming was a very self-contained sort of person, Aberhart said, who made good decisions and who thought outside the square.

This was borne out in the decision not to enforce the follow-on at Barbados, something that drew a lot of criticism in New Zealand.

"Stephen didn't make that decision alone. The reality was that he was so far ahead in the game, he had two bowlers [Bond and Vettori] back from injury and it was being played on a wearing wicket. The best opportunity New Zealand had was to bat on.

"If he hadn't done it, that would have been the wrong decision," he said.

There is little chance for the players to rest up. They have six weeks before their next exercise, at the International Cricket Council's Champions Trophy tournament in Sri Lanka, and all players are on fitness and skill programmes which will be assessed by New Zealand Cricket staff.

And after the Champions Trophy, the programme will be the home series against India of two Tests and seven ODIs, the World Cup and then a May tour to Sri Lanka.