July 25, 2003

What's going on? When three into one does go

Pardon me for interrupting, but in a game which revels in spurious statistics there is one that defies belief doing the rounds in New Zealand cricket at the moment.

It seems that the national selection panel of last summer picked up a strange new disease, and we are talking pre-SARS here. But apparently, they were guilty of picking three wicketkeepers in a team! And it wasn't because the bowlers were doing especially badly.

This is seen in some quarters as an especially heinous crime and one that clearly showed the panel had lost their marbles during one or other of their various selection meetings. Remembering that only one person can wear the gloves at any one time, it has to be assumed that the person assigned to the job was the person the selectors felt was best suited, or gloved, as the case may be, to do it.

But an interesting point to ponder in this day of wicketkeeping batting aces, is, if you had two or three wicketkeepers who were doing especially well with the bat, and some batsmen who weren't, who would you put in your team if you were looking for runs? Is a wicketkeeper who is a good enough batsman not deemed worthy enough of being included as a batsman only?

It has been obvious for some time in New Zealand now that Brendon McCullum, provided he keeps his game together, doesn't succumb to injury and sorts out some concerns with his batting, is the long-term wicketkeeping performer on the international scene. At the moment the Test spot is held by Robbie Hart, and that is fair enough. But in the one-day game McCullum is the incumbent.

That means Chris Nevin's chances of wicketkeeping for New Zealand in ODIs are few and far between. So if he is to keep a place in the side it has to be as a batsman. At the moment he is one of the leading contenders for the opening batting role. He went to the Bank Alfalah Cup and played in five matches, as a batsman.

There is a point to all this, I'm getting there.

Also in the same side was Lou Vincent. Now it is known that Lou has pulled the gloves on for a few occasions and is quite capable in the job, but a wicketkeeper? He is far more use to New Zealand in the field, and will one day come up with the required consistency in the middle-order. So yes, New Zealand did have three wicketkeepers in the team, but they might also have had three Presbyterians, three Catholics, three athiests and two Seventh Day Adventists, which when you think about it might explain some of the batting problems on Saturdays.

But the point is, if the players are the choice of the selectors as batsmen, who cares if there are six wicketkeepers in the side?

That's not to forget that Mathew Sinclair was also at the World Cup and he's kept wickets. And then again in the one-day series against England in New Zealand in 2001-02, Nevin, McCullum and Vincent played in three matches together. Go back to the VB Series before that and McCullum and Vincent played in the same side as Adam Parore in four matches.

So is choosing three wicketkeepers really such a worrying event?

In a previous outburst I alluded to the use of A to describe second XI sides. This remains an irksome habit and one that seems to stem from political correctness more aimed at protecting the feelings of those who are named in a 2nd XI, than acknowledging the fact that while they are players of potential, they are still second-best.

What good reason can there be for describing a side as the A side to mean the second best, when the A side is the top team?

Is there something wrong with being called the B team? After all, everyone knows what it means.

There are any number of reasons why this is a ridiculous practice. After all, A is the first letter in the alphabet, that's reason enough alone. Algebra was never a strong point but it should be obvious that A = 1 and Z = 26. Then there's Auckland. Overseas readers might not appreciate this but by way of explanation, in the New Zealand hierarchial structure there are Aucklanders, and there are others - the rest of the population.

The Auckland genus is obvious because they call themselves the A team. Whether or not that is their position it doesn't matter, it makes no difference to them - never has, never will. And they are not saying it because they think they are second best.

And then there's Australia. Now if ever there was anyone deserving to be called the A team, it is Steve Waugh's Test men and Ricky Ponting's ODI men. That's what they are, No 1.

So enough of this silliness. Let's be having a little alphabetical correctitude here and start calling 2nd XIs what they are, B teams. And if the poor little darlings don't like it, tough, because that's what they should be, tough enough to take it.