August 29, 2003

What's going on? Retiree to 'spear'-head Kiwi batting?

Perhaps it's something to do with Mars' alignment with the stars, well that will do as an excuse, but there seems to have been a fair bit of scuttlebutt about lately on the prospect of Craig Spearman once more gracing international cricket. It seems a gentle enquiry was made about his interest in resuming his connection with New Zealand by new manager Lindsay Crocker on his recent visit to England.

Certainly, the big rumour that did the rounds before the Indian selections were made last week was that the aforementioned Gloucestershire county professional would be among those players to make the one-day side for the latter part of the tour. Further spice to this revelation was provided when the selection manager, Sir Paddles of Hadlee, said the selectors reserved the right to change their team before the Pakistan one-day series.

Grist to this rumour is provided by the fact that the man who has seen more of Spearman's cricket in the last two years is going to be the next New Zealand coach. The Gloucestershire connection looms large. John Bracewell has obviously looked at the state of the one-day game in New Zealand and drawn his own conclusions. And the picture is not drawn with a fine-haired brush but a fairly hefty 12-inch job, or whatever the metric equivalent is.

Add to that the obvious intention that Nathan Astle should be protected from the first five overs and continue batting at No. 3, and it is as clear as the fact that spring is underway in Christchurch, that an opening position is up for grabs. Mind you, it has been the worst selling vacant lot in New Zealand real estate history in the last 20 years.

Spearman has, of course, been part of the non-sale of the property - along with many other players, any one of whom could also be tried and tried again. The new coach may, or may not, be thinking of using the accumulated experience his charge in England has gained.

But for what it's worth, consider this. How many instances are there in the history of sport when someone has made a decision to make themselves unavailable and, to all intents and purposes, retired, and then come back successfully? They are few and far between, especially when longevity of ownership is the requirement New Zealand most need. And those who have done it have been outstanding individuals in their own right, world-class performers generally who have had the results and who know what they need to do to achieve them again.

There are four years until the next World Cup, New Zealand need to be making a choice at this stage and giving that choice, the sort of continuity and encouragement that will ensure runs, long service and happier days for many years beyond that next World Cup. It may be that Spearman is that man, but the odds against it happening would be long. And, besides, it may be that he is perfectly happy playing as he is in Gloucestershire.


Wondering where all the height has gone in the All Black lineout? Check the New Zealand cricket team the next time it is passing by. Make sure you've got a neck massage lined up though when you've finished. It's been said that if you catch the team in the distance at twilight there's a passing resemblance to the Manhattan skyline.

If there's a taller team in world cricket then it must be quite a height. These blokes would shape up rather well in New Zealand's national basketball team as well. For starters there's Jacob Oram who must be the tallest player in international cricket at 6ft 7ins. Then you can add Stephen Fleming, Chris Cairns, Daryl Tuffey, Michael Mason, Ian Butler, Daniel Vettori, all of them hovering around the 6ft 3ins-6ft 2ins area. Shane Bond is no shorty either.

It all makes for an intimidating presence out in the middle. And generally the dexterity of the big men doesn't seem to be too hampered. Some of the catches that Oram has pulled off would attest to that, and then there is the assuredness of one of the finest first slippers in the game in Fleming, who doesn't seem to have too much trouble getting down low to get his mitts around whatever chances are in the offing.

But is height an advantage? It could make it more difficult for player hydration, you know, that expression they use nowadays for keeping your liquids up. After all there's a lot more body surface to hydrate. Then there's all those plane flights. It could also give another option on those days when flat tracks are proving unresponsive, and a bowler is able to use height as a variable. There's a fair chance the theory is set to get a real test in India.

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