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October 28, 2007
Stephen Fleming feels a policy to keep senior players uncertain of their places in the New Zealand side led to the retirements of Nathan Astle and Chris Cairns, reported the Sunday Star Times, quoting from Astle's biography that will be released on Monday.
"Fleming made it clear he was deeply dubious about the philosophy of keeping senior players uneasy, which he felt contributed to the demise of Cairns and Astle," said Phil Gifford, a journalist who helped Astle write the book. Cairns retired in early 2006 months after having been left out of the side to tour South Africa while Astle retired in January 2007.
In an extract from the book, Fleming said, "The emotional strain that was put on Nathan and Chris Cairns was never measured. These guys were working under unbelievable pressure to perform during a game with the axe hanging over them. I've always wondered, looking back at it, whether that time forced the retirement of Chris and then the retirement of Nathan."
Gifford also said that Fleming and Astle were concerned about the influence wielded by New Zealand's high performance manager Ric Charlesworth. "The man Fleming and Nathan had issues with, at least as much as [coach] John Bracewell, was Ric Charlesworth," Gifford said. "I got the impression Charlesworth had a reputation as the Darth Vader of New Zealand cricket, a man whose opinions, the players felt, held enormous sway with John Bracewell and New Zealand Cricket management in general."
Astle had been dropped from the one-day squad for the last two games of the series against Sri Lanka in late 2005, immediately after he had played a series-winning knock. He had then been told that his exclusion was part of New Zealand's long-term planning.
"At the heart of the Astle retirement was what happened when Nathan was dropped," Gifford said. "He says that from the time he was dropped, and the mish-mash of reasons he was given, he was always struggling to stay enthused.
"His approach, explained by himself and coaches, was that he played his best with a clear mind and no distractions. The Charlesworth era saw him show some good form but it was ultimately short-sighted, because it drove him out of the game.
"Nathan's well known for not having temper tantrums, and the tragedy for him and the team is that, while he was slowly burning at what was being done to him, John and everyone else in New Zealand Cricket took so long to realise he was being pushed out the door by them, not being re-energised and enthused.
"Just why John read it so wrong is a complete mystery to me. Now the dust has settled the whole thing feels to me like an experiment in man management that could hardly have gone more wrong."
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