December 7, 2012

New Zealand cricket isn't worth the risk

Despite its mishandling of Ross Taylor, NZC remains unaccountable

Cricket has stood the test of time as a great sport. Its worth is obvious when the sun comes out and a contest between two teams can be enjoyed hour after hour, day after day.

Many play because of the unique nature of individual expression, bowler against batsman, inside a team environment. Eleven-a-side offers plenty of variety in personality and character, which is required, given the different roles and skills that are called upon. Cricket is a fine all-round sport: healthy for the body but without direct contact, and healthy for the mind as it makes you think and concentrate for long periods.

It's no different in New Zealand, despite our national game being rugby. Of course our climate is more suited to the winter code, but you still can't beat a summer afternoon Down Under playing cricket, either professionally or as a pastime. For a century we have embraced our favourite summer sport. It has added worth to our landscape, our culture, and to our international reputation as a nation.

Not anymore. When an organisation like New Zealand Cricket starts stripping the self-worth (and I don't mean monetary worth) from talented athletes, when a young player enters the system and leaves it disillusioned and dispirited, the the sport becomes worthless.

In a previous article I wrote about why I thought we struggled to score more Test hundreds compared to any other nation. I named a large group of batsmen through the last ten years who have come and gone through our appalling system, and no doubt most have departed feeling a certain disenchantment with their treatment.

It's sad to see young people chase their dreams only to miss out. Of course that is part of life and its challenges. But in New Zealand the cricket environment is failing more players than ever. In short, that is why we are now ninth below Bangladesh in ODIs, and eighth in Tests and T20.

Cricket is tough on the individual; you can spend half your life playing only to retire in your mid-30s with no other skills to offer in the workforce because cricket has consumed all your time and energy.

Over the last week NZC destroyed the soul of Ross Taylor, easily our best player. They have apparently apologised for the way his sacking from the captaincy was handled. Nevertheless they have amputated his spirit and there is no prosthetic for that. And yet NZC goes unaccountable. They continue to strip the worth from players and, therefore, as an organisation, they have definitely become worthless.

The leadership has been poor in the past, but the fish head couldn't smell any worse now. From the chairman to the CEO to the coach to the manager, they have all played their collective part in what is arguably the most botched administration in New Zealand sporting history.

This week the game in New Zealand has been severely damaged. Those who have contributed to this debacle may as well stay on because they have done such a murderous job that the next lot, no matter how good they are, will always be playing catch up

Some are saying that the removal of Taylor as captain was an orchestrated coup, stemming back to when John Wright resigned in April. No one will know, and who really cares whether it is by design or by incompetence? The fact is, the execution is rotten enough for accountability to be demanded and for all four positions be given to more transparent, more competent and more worthy men.

Taylor is such a resilient character that he will bounce back. But he will probably never trust NZC again. Coaches will come and go and it won't affect his batting, which has been amazing while he has been captain.

When he was told by the management just days before the first Test in Sri Lanka that he was useless, he didn't say anything, he didn't react; instead he went out and won the second Test off his own bat. Knowing the circumstances, I have no hesitation in saying that his 142 and 74 on a turning pitch, plus his winning captaincy, were the equal of Richard Hadlee's 15 wickets in Brisbane in 1985. These two performances stand out to me as the greatest in our Test history.

During New Zealand's next Test against South Arica in the New Year, Taylor will be on a beach somewhere, playing with his young family. It is extraordinary to think this could happen but NZC had no hesitation to make it so. Not one kid that I know in New Zealand understands it. They are confused.

And they are the future. They will be subconsciously wondering if playing cricket beyond school is worthwhile.

Everyone knows that the more New Zealand play badly, the less their players will be recruited to the likes of the IPL. The present players are thriving in it, but over time the money and opportunity will dry up for nations who drift into the backwaters. The next generation may not see the lure in playing unless the present players create an attraction that is good enough. This present bunch have acquired a reputation for looking after their own and forgetting the future.

This week the game in New Zealand has been severely damaged. Permanently, I believe. Those who have contributed to this debacle may as well stay on because they have done such a murderous job that the next lot, no matter how good they are, will always be playing catch up. But those directly accountable should go, simply as rightful punishment.

No matter what happens, who comes or goes, NZC has shown that it is not safe for a young person to risk the journey knowing that the likelihood of his or her worth being stolen away is odds on. If there is one thing in life that is always valuable and important, it's your feeling of self-worth. With cricket in New Zealand I wouldn't risk it; it's just not worth it.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

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