Greatbatch makes batting his top priority
Less than a day into his role as New Zealand coach, Mark Greatbatch has chalked out an immediate priority: to help the pool of batsmen play to the top of their game. Greatbatch, who was today appointed head coach after a four-month void following Andy Moles' resignation in October, has identified batting as an area New Zealand have a lot of work to do on.
"In Test cricket you need to take 20 wickets and you also need to score a decent amount of runs. In the past, we have taken wickets but haven't scored enough runs and that is one area we are looking to improve," he told Cricinfo after a long Saturday.
Greatbatch, who played for New Zealand between 1988 and 1996, will perform the dual responsibility of being part of the national selection panel along with his new appointment. Interestingly, despite being head coach, it is reportedly understood that Greatbatch's primary focus will remain the batting department with Daniel Vettori continuing to hold the rights on decision-making concerning strategies and selections. The appointment just puts an official stamp on the duties that Greatbatch has already been performing in the last few months.
In the aftermath of Moles' resignation, NZC declared they were in no hurry to fill the breach. In the interim they decided to seek help from within their own ranks. During the ODI series against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, where Greatbatch had accompanied the team as a touring selector, he was asked by NZC if he would like to act as a batting consultant. "I went to Abu Dhabi with the team as a selector in November and got involved with the team helping the batsmen," he said. "At the same time NZC were looking for a replacement for Andy Moles, so they approached me and asked if I would consider an extra role as part of the coaching staff."
The more they talked, the more excited Greatbatch became about the job. "The initial role was predominantly working with the batsmen and helping Dan with any other areas as a captain," he said.
Today, both NZC and Vettori acknowledged the positive impression Greatbatch had made and admitted that clinched him the offer. Greatbatch has already begun talking about pushing forward plans that were set in motion about six months ago. "John Wright and Martin Crowe have been working closely with some of the players outside the Black Caps system on technical and tactical areas to get the best results," he said. "We also have Glenn Turner on the selection panel, so we have a lot of very good people in our group and it is a matter of utilising them to the fullest and that is going to be the key area through which we are going to improve as a group."
Greatbatch has two previous stints as coach, the first as coaching director at his native Central Districts and then a curtailed two-year experience with Warwickshire with whom he had signed a three-year contract at the end of 2005.
His first assignment will be against Bangladesh next week. New Zealand have been robbed of three quality fast bowlers who formed one part of their recent successes. Shane Bond's fairytale return lasted one victorious Test, Ian O'Brien conceded domestic life was more appealing than finding ways to break through the defence of an opponent, and Kyle Mills has yet to fully recover from injury. In the batting department, the highly-talented Jesse Ryder has been waylaid by a stomach muscle injury.
Greatbatch, though, was unruffled and pointed out that his duty was to find out more about the players and what worked best for them, after which the task was to develop it. "As a coaching group, we need to help find the players their A game and work very hard with them on that and help them develop in their practice and repeat it then we can get stronger and more consistent," he said.
But New Zealand, who in 2009 reached the final of the ICC Champions Trophy in South Africa and defeated Pakistan in a thrilling victory in Dunedin, their first win in 13 months, face a stern test in March when Australia arrive to play a full series. "The Aussies are looming," Greatbatch said, "But we are working on improving our Test ranking. We had a very good Test series against Pakistan in December but unfortunately it rained despite us playing well. We are making some progress."
New Zealand will then travel extensively in the Indian subcontinent with a proposed tri-series in Sri Lanka in July, with India the third team, followed by a tour of Bangladesh and then a full tour of India before the World Cup next March.
Greatbatch understood the various challenges in the pipeline but was relaxed. His source of confidence remains the same as that of the whole of New Zealand: his captain, Vettori. "I admire the way he plays," Greatbatch said in praise of Vettori, who started his career when his was ending. "He has his own methods. It is a little bit unique to him but again he has found his A game. He consistently performs with both ball and bat and is a great leader. He is nice and relaxed in the dressing room and I'm looking forward to complementing that."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo