Selection reveals the need for clean slate
Earlier this season, John Bracewell ridiculed Darren Lehmann's suggestion that Australia's crushing Test victory at the Gabba had inflicted psychological damage on the New Zealand team. Rather than admit to the truth, Bracewell instead chose to question the credentials of Lehmann, a veteran of 247 first-class matches, to make such an assessment.
Whether he's still unwilling to admit it or not, today's selection of the New Zealand team for the first Test against Australia is a direct reflection of the insurmountable mental edge that Ricky Ponting's men have over their counterparts.
On the batting side Mathew Sinclair, who has performed credibly as an opener this season, especially during November's Brisbane Test, was cast aside after the second ODI at Christchurch. Michael Papps replaced Sinclair as Bracewell explained that Papps needed a good look at the Australian bowlers before the Test series. Two Brett Lee blows to the helmet and an enormous bruised head and ego later, Papps too is on the scrap heap for the moment.
With Chris Cairns, Jacob Oram, Shane Bond, Ian Butler and Andre Adams being unavailable for the series, it would be unthinkable in normal circumstances that fit bowlers like Daryl Tuffey, Jeff Wilson and Kyle Mills could be omitted from the Test side. Yet, that is exactly what Bracewell has opted for after the trio have been smashed to all parts during the current one-day series.
Back into the Test team come Chris Martin, James Franklin and Paul Wiseman: no surprises there. The selection of Iain O'Brien, the Wellington seam bowler, is, on the other hand, the proverbial bolt from the blue, and a direct reflection on the headspace that the New Zealand attack is in right now.
Mills has made every squad since being a surprise pick for New Zealand's Test tour of England last May. Wilson didn't deliver results in the two ODI appearances he was given, while Lance Hamilton has been overlooked after just one outing. It is the omission of Tuffey, a veteran of 22 Tests and 66 wickets, that best illustrates the full extent of the current crisis though.
It has been generally accepted in New Zealand that Tuffey is our answer to Glenn McGrath. The difference though is that McGrath will be there for the world to see in next week's Test at Christchurch while Tuffey will cut a lonely figure back in first-class play. Why? The New Zealand team think-tank determined that he had lost confidence and dropped him from the one-day unit. Captain Stephen Fleming said as much the day before Tuffey's first-over debacle in the third ODI. Now he's deemed inadequate for Test play as well.
Australia have now won both the battle and the war this summer. The abrupt about-turn on Tuffey, Mills, Wilson and Hamilton is evidence that Bracewell thinks New Zealand's best chance for the three-Test series is a clean start rather than persisting with those who've been unable to impose themselves on the Australians.
Until today, O'Brien was preparing for Wellington's next four-day match against Northern Districts. Now it is Tuffey who will line up for Northern Districts against O'Brien's teammates. According to Wellington coach Vaughn Johnson, the selection of the 28-year old O'Brien is well deserved, and an impressive record of 120 first-class wickets at 22 backs that view.
An attacking right-armer, O'Brien bowls an awkward length and hits the splice hard. "He can complement an attack by bowling into the wind and help the guy at the other end" says Johnson. Asked whether his charge was up to this new challenge, Johnson replied, "He'll be right".
Hamish Marshall, one of few to emerge with credit from the one-day series, and debutant Craig Cumming, like O'Brien, are players with genuine heart. However, with Justin Langer sure to remember the pain he inflicted on a hapless Franklin at Adelaide a few months back, Bracewell and Fleming must pray for the type of miracle that occurred last summer when unlikely hero Chris Martin bagged 11 South African scalps to set an equally unexpected victory.