What's going on? A hunch or basic selection practice?

Lynn McConnell

July 17, 2003

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This is the first in an occasional series of comments on the New Zealand cricket scene by Wisden CricInfo New Zealand Editor Lynn McConnell.

It would have been enough to have Sir Paddles of Hadlee choking on his daily morning muesli.

There it was, in a Sunday newspaper. One of his finest achievements in selection. Shane Bond being introduced to international cricket. But described as part of a Hadlee "hunch"?

A hunch? Well, knock him down and kick him senseless on the ground. Would not the finest faster bowler his country has produced, and one of the finest in the world, good enough to be ranked 10th equal on Wisden's 20th Century list of cricketers, not know a fast-bowling prospect when he saw one. If he couldn't then very few others were going to be in on the act.

Just as a reminder. This "hunch" probably developed while Sir Paddles was undertaking the autograph-signingly onerous task of managing a New Zealand A (A team? - that's got to be a subject in a later column) team at the Buchi Babu tournament in India, a team to which Bond had been added when an injury forced Scott Styris to stay home.

Bond, with seven for 45, performed a one-man demolition job on an unfortunate Indian Railways batting side, on a flat wicket, to give New Zealand the semi-final victory that allowed it to win the tournament. So, when he was called up into the side on its tour of Australia, it was a selection "hunch", was it? It wasn't as if Bond hadn't been recognised as a potential performer. He had been part of the much-lamented Conference cricket system (yawning not compulsory at the memory).

But he opted to look after his work prospects by becoming a policeman - after all the number of injury frustrations he had probably had him thinking that a job might provide more safety net in his life than cricket was looking to give him. Then, of course, he found the conditioning work he did during his police training was enough to give him the faith and strength to believe that there might be life in the old back yet.

Even adding Jacob Oram to the list of Hadlee "hunches" was going a bit far. Oram has always been competitive: he led his team to an unlikely Shell Cup victory in the summer of 2000-01 by beating Canterbury twice at home in the last matches of the best-of-three series.

Oram's potential had seen him included in the Academy system, and he was always going to be able to perform once he gained a degree of consistency in his bowling, especially when able to utilise his superior height.

Nah, "hunch" was the wrong word to use. You couldn't even use it with Ian Butler. Hadlee hadn't seen him bowl and had to rely on his fellow selectors and intelligence from around the countryside. That's what selection systems are for.


Well, the surprise of the week isn't hard to guess. Stephen Fleming says his relationship with John Bracewell is a non-issue. Of course it is. They are paid employees of New Zealand Cricket who have appointed them to positions of responsibility. Their longevity in the job depends on them doing their jobs properly.

It never ceases to amaze that public opinion in this country turns to the negative whenever something new is put in place. Fleming is New Zealand's most successful Test captain, by far. He might be about to make a claim to being one of our finest batsmen. He has opinions and beliefs on what is best for his side to win.

John Reid certainly did. He virtually picked the players he wanted with him in South Africa in 1961-62, still one of New Zealand's most successful tours of its cricket history. Nobody was complaining then. That tour's up there with 1969 in India and Pakistan, 1985-86 in Australia and 1999 in England.

So all the kerfuffle that has been drummed up about Fleming having more say in his role as captain has been a heap of the stuff that Canterbury ecologists are now afraid may be seeping into their aquifers from the proliferation of dairy farms in their region.

And let's face it, Bracewell has never been one to shirk from a challenge. Together the pair could be dynamic. After all, the players who have to turn New Zealand's one-day performances around are almost the same as those who are in place now. It's their attitude and competitiveness that has to change. Why shouldn't the pair of them be able to work out a strategy? It's about winning, and Fleming knows he hasn't done enough of that to be able to ignore the benefits of working with Bracewell in the new regime.


Poor old Bangladesh. Talk about lambs to the slaughter. Starts tomorrow at Darwin. But that's the price of admission to the inner circle, it's much more expensive in the best seats than it is in the wings.

Bangladesh's poor form has resulted in a string of comparisons with New Zealand's rather long wait to achieve their first Test victory, 26 years if you needed any reminding, minus six, of course, for the intervention of World War Two. But, really, the only comparison between the two countries is a mathematical one.

Bangladesh have not been bedevilled by the sort of fawning administrative subservience demonstrated by New Zealand Cricket's administrators of the 1930s, who thought it was a damned bad show that chaps they had spent money on to send them on tours to England, should let the side down by daring to return to England to take up professional contracts. It was hardly as if the players had to give up their regular jobs to do it either!

It wasn't cricket, although it was really, and they were banned for daring to try and make some financial headway in the midst of the greatest economic depression to have hit the country in its then 90-year history.

Instead of banning these players, these forelock tuggers of Imperial rectitude should have worked with their players by arranging to have them return for the New Zealand summer to act as coaches here while also playing in what was then a lamentable first-class programme. And if not every year, then certainly when the New Zealand team was going to be involved in match play.

Any team would suffer when losing players like Ces Dacre, Stewie Dempster, Roger Blunt, Ken James and Bill Merritt. So by banning them, New Zealand then had to find more players to replace them. And when they had them available, a lamentable selection system employed for the 1937 tour meant some obvious choices were left at home.

Bangladesh have at least had the chance for continuity of selection and by virtue of the grand plan of Lord Christopher of the Doig, remember him - was it only two years ago he was running the New Zealand game? - they have matches against each of the Test-playing nations within five years.

But the real questions concerning Bangladesh from a New Zealand perspective are: Will they take more than 45 Tests for their first victory, and will they manage to score less than 26 in an innings in any of their matches against the big boys of the world game? Would it be too much of a "hunch" to think that statistic might not have escaped Steve Waugh's achievement radar?

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