March 28, 2003

O'Connor's retirement a blow for New Zealand

It is not yet an epidemic but the loss of medium-fast swing bowler Shayne O'Connor to retirement is another blow for New Zealand cricket's depth of resources.

O'Connor, 29, announced today that he was withdrawing from international and first-class play to settle into a business venture in Alexandra in Central Otago.

The news comes after O'Connor finished third on the New Zealand domestic wicket-taking list this year with 42 wickets at a cost of 18.71 runs. He had been a key performer for the improved Otago side which finished third in the State Championship.

It is ironic that the players' strike of October was aimed at keeping players in the game longer, yet in the last 12 months, New Zealand has lost experienced players like Adam Parore, Chris Drum and now O'Connor who all had, potentially, many years of cricket left in them.

Their loss was not only felt in New Zealand's international options, but also on the first-class scene. O'Connor was regarded in many quarters as a certainty to make the New Zealand team to tour Sri Lanka in April which is to be announced next week.

In his 19-Test career he took 53 wickets at 32.52 and in 38 One-Day Internationals he took 46 wickets at 30.34. He played 72 first-class matches and took 275 wickets at 23.70, including 16 five-wicket bags and two 10-wicket bags.

He first captured the public's imagination during a tour of Australia in 1997/98 when he bowled Steve Waugh for 96 at the WACA in the second Test.

"It could have slipped past his bat as a full toss, but it turned into a yorker. People said, 'Gee, what a great ball' and it grabbed some attention which was great for me," he said.

O'Connor had spent the summers of 2000/01 and 2001/02 recovering from a knee injury after probably the finest form of his brief international career in Africa in late-2000.

As New Zealand's bowling attack succumbed to injury, O'Connor bore an increasing workload. He was bowling faster as the result of some refinements to his technique, but no sooner was he back in New Zealand than he broke down and suffered for the remainder of the summer.

O'Connor said the African tour had been the best of his tours.

"I learnt how to play international cricket and fitted in fully with the New Zealand team. I was satisfied that I was accepted as a real international bowling option instead of giving me the ball and wondering what I was going to do today.

"The tour was long, and helluva hard. I think if we had had a full-strength side we could have pushed South Africa but we struck them two months into the tour and were already tired whereas they were fresh and playing at home and much better off.

"The programme we had was an injustice to the team. We were on tour for four months," he said.

A recall for last summer's tour of Australia came to grief during the first Test at Brisbane and he missed out on being awarded a New Zealand Cricket contract for this year.

O'Connor said the contract system was not a factor in his decision.

"When I first played first-class cricket I didn't think 'Aw gee, I could make a lot of money out of this," he said.

"I made up my mind a long time ago. And once I started thinking about it I looked at it with a bias for affirmation for what I was thinking.

"I was pretty determined to do well this year and I played as if I still wanted to play for New Zealand, to keep my name in the hat. But I still feel comfortable with my decision," he said.

O'Connor said he would be surprised if he played first-class cricket again.

The injury he suffered after the African tour and his time to recover over two summers were not really a factor in his decision, although he said it was while injured that he began to think about life after cricket.

"I never saw myself as having a long and illustrious cricket career, winning a county contract. That wasn't for me.

"I did what I wanted to when I set out in cricket and I'm thrilled with what I did," he said.

New Zealand selection chairman Sir Richard Hadlee was surprised by O'Connor's decision.

While giving nothing away about his thoughts of the chances O'Connor may have had of being part of the Sri Lankan tour, Hadlee did say that experience was an asset and at 29 years of age, O'Connor had that.

O'Connor said that had he continued to play he felt he would have been more consistent in his bowling because with the experience he had he could contribute so much more.

Hadlee said he respected O'Connor's decision and that it seemed he wanted a change of lifestyle and had lost the motivation.

"I'm sure he would have been discussed," he said of the selection meeting that is taking place on Monday. The team would probably be announced on Wednesday, he said.