New Zealand v FICA World XI January 16, 2005

Wilson's return - right or wrong?

Jeff Wilson: worth a try in whites? © Getty Images

The recall of Jeff Wilson to the New Zealand cricket team after a 12-year absence was always going cause a stir, but the extent to which it has escalated defies belief.

Wilson's selection for the three-match one-day series against a World XI has been described in the press this week as "staggering" and "astonishing", while some have suggested it is purely a marketing ploy. Add to that newspaper headlines such as "Canning, Adams not happy about snub", and "Snubbed Franklin takes ND apart", and suddenly a shadow has been cast over Wilson's return.

Then today came something almost unprecedented, as the Auckland allrounder and fringe NZ squad member Tama Canning gave his views on Wilson's abilities. Canning told the New Zealand Herald: "Jeff will get a go [for New Zealand] and I hope he does well, but I don't think he's technically good enough for that level."

Canning's comments came as no great surprise. Just about everyone in cricket, it seems, is unable to get to grips with the New Zealand selectors' bold decision. The Dominion Post's suggestion that the red carpet has been laid out for Wilson reflects the fact that many cricket folk in New Zealand feel that he is the recipient of special treatment because of his status as an All Black rugby legend.

It's hard not to think that there's an element of jealousy here. Wilson gave away rugby in 2002, and is now in his third season back in the whites. He has not sought attention, nor been given it unjustifiably. If anyone looked at how he did last season, they would realise that he went a long way towards proving himself. The surprise actually is that he has not figured in any New Zealand selections until now.

The other point is, since when was it a crime to pick a bolter? What record did Daniel Vettori have behind him in his two first-class matches when he was selected to play a Test against England in 1997? Ditto Ian Butler, when he debuted against England in 2002. Both players were picked on raw talent. Wilson not only has talent, but he's a proven matchwinner on the international stage, in rugby and cricket.

The pot was stirred by the acknowledgment by the New Zealand coach John Bracewell that Wilson would probably not have been selected if the series against the World XI carried official ODI status. Canning was even quoted in the Dominion Post as saying that "John [Bracewell] actually said I'm in front of Jeff but they want to have a look at him to learn a bit about him." That's a good strategy - but a bad idea passing it on.

That minor criticism aside, Bracewell and his fellow selectors should be applauded for picking Wilson. It is also interesting to note that while anti-Wilsonism is becoming more apparent on the first-class scene, the retired internationals Adam Parore and Mark Richardson both endorsed his elevation in their weekend newspaper columns. Chris Cairns added in the NZ Herald that Wilson possessed the attributes of "belief, confidence and experience, all of which cannot be taught".

The timing of his addition to the New Zealand squad could not be better. Not only is he hitting form, especially with the ball, but there are three Tests and five ODIs against Australia just round the corner. As Bracewell told the Sunday News today: "We've looked at him in terms of offering something that can challenge the Australians."

New Zealand's chances of finishing on top of the ODI rankings by the April 1 deadline for the ICC Super Series in October are all but extinguished, as that requires Australia first to capitulate in the VB Series then suffer a hiding when they travel to NZ in February. Still, a series victory by New Zealand would do wonders for softening the Australians' aura of invincibility. If there is anyone who could influence such a result it would be hard to go past Jeff Wilson.

Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show.