Time Out January 10, 2013

Is New Zealand cricket at its lowest point?

ESPNcricinfo staff
Harsha Bhogle, Mark Greatbatch and Andrew Alderson on a period of turmoil both on and off the field

New Zealand have had a tough time both on and off the field of late, the latest crisis being the one involving Ross Taylor and the way the split-captaincy issue was handled by NZC. The team is also ranked below Bangladesh in ODIs, and eighth in Tests and T20s.

The structure has seen changes, but with little impact on performance. What now for New Zealand cricket? Former New Zealand batsman and coach Mark Greatbatch, and sportswriter for the Herald on Sunday, Andrew Alderson, join Harsha Bhogle in a discussion. Excerpts below (the numbers in the brackets are the duration of each segment)

New Zealand were bowled out for 45 in the first Test, and this was preceded by a captaincy crisis. How is all this being received at home? (1.19 - 5.26)

Mark Greatbatch: Certainly not a happy New Year as far as New Zealand cricket is concerned. There has been a lot of change, and I feel the changes they've been making consistently over the last four or five years have not actually benefited us much. When you change something, you've got to do it for the better and you have to assess what you change. We continue to change but not really assess things and we keep going back to square one. It's hard work, looking for players of character that can fight hard for their country and working underneath some top players to create better players.

Andrew Alderson: I know in the past New Zealand have had worse performances, the 26 all-out rings pretty excruciating even now. That was on uncovered pitches and when players were not all professionals; they are professionals now.

If there's one positive we can take out of it, there has been a lack of apathy about the whole thing. There has actually been some genuine passion from New Zealand fans about this, this sense of outrage. It could be taken as a bonus that at least people give a damn about this still.

The attention seems to be drifting from the players to those in the administration and management. (5.27 - 9.06)

MG: The decision-makers are important people and it's important they work with other key personnel, players and knowledgeable people to help our game move forward. We've too many instances in the last two or three years where there has been mismanagement of people, not just players, coaches. We've gone through a lot of personnel in the last four or five years.

Ross Taylor's situation - we are talking about a guy who is 28, involved with New Zealand for about eight years now, and probably got another eight years left in him. The way he was treated was just human indecency, really. If this is going to be a change then you sit down around a table as adults and human beings and discuss it. You don't ring from 10,000 miles away, saying, "Oh, we're changing." That's not done.

AA: [Management and administrators] have to earn respect. John Buchanan certainly has an impressive record from his coaching in Australia, but you've got to earn respect in the country you are working in, and that's still a work in progress. Same for Mike Hesson as well.

I've got a lot of time for Mike. He may have made a man-management blunder in terms of the way the whole thing with Taylor was dealt with but I'm sure if he had his time again, he wouldn't do it in that fashion. It was a miscommunication, a graphic one at best.

At the board level as well, there's got to be a lot of leadership there in the next little while, especially with the next World Cup in New Zealand in 2015, just as to what they need to do to reshape the game, and that comes down to the chairman, Chris Moller, and some degree the new chief executive, David White. There's been a lot of change and people just want to see some stability and progress from that.

If Hesson thinks Taylor should go [as captain in one format], should he have the power, and did Taylor really have to be removed as captain from a format, given the state of New Zealand cricket? (11.43 - 14.52)

MG: A coach, if he's got some strong feelings about leadership, he needs to sit down with people, and that includes the CEO, the captain and management, and discuss it. You look to try and improve things before you change. I'm not sure knocking on a door two days out of a Test series in Sri Lanka is the right way to do it, with a couple of coaches and a couple of senior players, saying, "We want a change".

I don't think Taylor had enough time as a captain. It takes a while. Let's be fair and honest - he's got a group of other players who aren't performing as they should or can. The big part is to lead by example, and Taylor did that in his last Test, away from home in Sri Lanka.

A lot of it comes down to unrealistic goals. I remember when I was involved. I was employed as batting coach, but at the 11th hour before I signed my contract, the former CEO said to me, "We want you as the batting coach but the board think they need someone as a coach, responsible." And I said, "That's not what I signed up for." I said, "I'll do the batting job." He said, "You do that, but you know, you might be seen as a senior coach in the group." I said, "That's fine."

There is a perception out there that I was coach of New Zealand. That was never my job description. I was the batting coach. I had a couple of meetings with the board at the time, and I asked them what their expectations were of us. Three or four of them said, "We want to be No. 1 or 2 in the world." At the time we were sixth, and I said, "To get from No. 6 to 1 or 2 is going to take some time." And personally I thought they were a bit unrealistic, particularly with the personnel and resources we had. Now, if we can get to No. 5 or 6 in three-four years, that's probably progress, particularly with what we've gone through in the last couple of years.

What's the role of Kim Littlejohn, the national selection manager? (14.50 - 18.20)

AA: There's confusion and even misconception about what Littlejohn does. My understanding is, he gets people to either look at people who are playing in the provincial set-up, then he assesses things. There's a certain system they are using, with pie-charts and various things like that, which is being ridiculed to some degree, and probably rightfully so in some respects. There's not a lot of emphasis placed on just genuine observation of talent. And he then provides the information to Hesson or whoever the coach may be. It's more an analytical job than a selection job. Hesson, I think, in terms of the New Zealand men's team, has the ultimate say in selection.

"At the moment players are responsible for making some pretty big decisions in the management area over the last three-four years. You add in their own performances, which have been average or sub-average, and you've got a pretty average look about things"
Mark Greatbatch

MG: It's a system they are working on - a lot of information-gathering from first-class coaches, Kim Littlejohn, few other people, watching cricketers, and really coming up with what they think are the key performance indicators for a person to play at the next level. I'm willing to give that time. We've been going 18 months; I'll be interested in another year to see where that's at, and show me whether that's had any impact on selection or improvement. There's a lot of change and systems put in place; a lot of them were not assessed - about how they went, or how badly they went. If they can be true to their word and stick to these systems and be honest with their results, we may see some progress, or we can say, "We tried that, it hasn't worked, let's try something else."

How good is New Zealand's talent pool? (19.51 - 24.29)

AA: There is a limited number of players coming through the system. New Zealand is always going to be under-resourced compared to other big countries around the world. Central Districts have a young batsman called Will Young who I was impressed with. There's a young legspin bowler by the name of Ish Sodhi, there's Hamish Rutherford, son of Ken Rutherford, who seems to show some talent. New Zealand are short on resources and the High Performance programme needs some work in that regard.

MG: The players we produce, going forward, have to be better than what we are now. We have to start early with our best and they have to have better core basics than they have at the moment. At the top level they are being found out. When they are 11 and 12, they are not being taught properly, how to defend properly. I see a real dysfunctional coaching set-up at the bottom end.

The CEO needs to be brave and say to the public, "We aren't good enough currently and it might take us ten years to get back to where we were, say, during the eighties." We've got to work on one or two core areas that we can assess and work on each year in that cycle of improvement. Otherwise we are going to go round and round in circles.

Martin Crowe wrote recently that Taylor can bounce back, but he's not sure if Taylor will trust NZC again. (24.30 - 26.06)

AA: It's going to be an incredibly difficult exercise. It's vital to see when he comes back into the side - hopefully it will be against England. He and Hesson, the management group, Brendon [McCullum] and some of the senior players need to sit down and knuckle it out, exactly how he'll make his transition back into the fold. Colombo showed just how much we need him. That's got to be really important, paramount to how New Zealand goes forward. It's hard to think he wouldn't feel betrayed by that whole issue.

How big an issue is player power in New Zealand cricket? (26.07 - 27.42)

MG: I think it's an element of it. The [players'] association does a lot of good work and they are involved in a lot of areas, as you'd expect. I feel at times they have gone down the wrong path, listening too much to some of the players. Players need to focus on their own performances, first and foremost. Yes they are allowed some inputs, but they need to front up as players. At the moment these players are responsible for making some pretty big decisions in this management area. You add in their own performances, which have been average or sub-average, and you've got a pretty average look about things. They are responsible, the players, across the board, for what's been happening here. It's not just CEOs or the chairman - the players are responsible.

New Zealand have had some encouraging results, be it reaching the semi-final in the World Cup, the win in Colombo, so the ability is there. (29.36 - 30.47)

MG: They can play well but they tend to forget how they play well. Some of our players need to listen, to get better. Whether they are listening enough is debatable, because they should be learning from those positive results, yet they're not, why?

Numbers Game (31.12 - 35.00)

Question: In 2012, there were two No. 4 batsmen who scored more than 800 Test runs at 50-plus averages. One of them was Jacques Kallis. Who was the other?