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?

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 12, 2013, 18:28 GMT

    I am sorry but this coupled with the woeful performance in being 47 for 6 overnight on day 2 of the second test simply reinforce that the New Zealand selectors need to do everything in their power to get the very best team on the Park for the England series. That team will have to include Jesse Ryder, Taylor, Vettori and Southee if humanly possible. Time and again we have seen that many of the team in South Africa simply are not up to the task at international level and some should have played their last tests. We have been totally outplayed by a much better team who are simply playing a different game to us, making a pitch look nasty and spiteful which just an hour before had looked totally benign when we were bowling. If changes do not come long standing and loyal supporters like me will simply go away from the team and the game.

  • Sami on January 11, 2013, 17:35 GMT

    New Zealand New Zealand New Zealand!!! pathetic last year you had. Apart from these expected Zimbabwe wins the rest were awful like a minnow team. I can't wait when Bangladesh crush and expose your team once and for all this year and swap the minnow status good luck! :D

  • jared on January 11, 2013, 5:29 GMT

    I wouldn't say NZ cricket is declining, its hit rock bottom it surely won't get any worse. I'm an optomistic fan, we went through a simalar rut in the 90's but then had a golden run through the early 2000's once young players matured. Greatbatch touched on some talent coming through and once guys like guptil, Williamson, watling and Co mature we will be a competitive team again. We do have a small talent base but what talent we do get gets identified young and invested in where bigger nations probably lose alot of talent, sure we've lost guys like Israel dagg and Simon hickey to rugby but most of the talent is into first class cricket pretty young, I'd just rather they served there apprenticeships overseas where the standard of cricket is higher so they become better players sooner.

  • Philip on January 11, 2013, 4:47 GMT

    It was interesting that Greatbatch said NZ kids were not learning how to defend. Such things are not a priority on this side of the Tasman either. The difference, of course, is that Australia seems to get away with wasting talent. NZ cannot afford to do that. Hard decisions must be made.

  • Chris on January 10, 2013, 21:59 GMT

    ha ha ha New Zealand declining team.

  • Shoaib on January 10, 2013, 18:25 GMT

    Sorry Harsha but the ranking tables are there for a reason. New Zealand ODI win ratio in 2012 is 28% but if you exclude those 3 matches wins against Zimbabwe then their win ratio would've been less than 10% whereas Bangladesh win ratio is 55% in ODIs in 2012 beating teams like West Indies and India. Had Bangladesh gotten to play enough T20 and Test matches like New Zealand then they most likely would've ranked above them in those formats but don't worry though, New Zealand will tour Bangladesh this year and Bangladesh will show them who really are the minnows :)

  • Sami on January 10, 2013, 16:13 GMT

    I think Indians are scared facing Bangladesh maybe hopefully soon the youngsters of Bangladesh and India will clash in a series to show where both teams stand in the future. You have Jadeja we have Shakib who destroys him in all departments, you have Rahane we have Tamim Iqbal, you have Unmukt Chand we have the more impressive Anamul Haque and so on. Indian team is declining and not as good as it once was :)

  • Shipu on January 10, 2013, 15:39 GMT

    If there's something wrong with the ranking tables then there's something wrong with i.e. Sachin 100 100s because his last 100 was ironically against 'Bangladesh' and 1/5 of those were also against teams like Kenya, Namibia etc so something is wrong with those 100 100s and really it is 80 100s fair is fair ;)

  • Shipu on January 10, 2013, 15:37 GMT

    I just want to say to Harsha that no there's nothing wrong with Bangladesh being ranked higher than New Zealand please give credit where its due. New Zealand have lost ODI series to West Indies, Sri Lanka and South Africa in 2012 and Bangladesh in that time have beaten India, Sri Lanka and the West Indies so I think we all can see that there's nothing wrong with the ranking tables otherwise India who use to be ranked number 1 was also ranked wrong then. Bangladesh beat the West Indies 3-2 something minnows don't at all do and 4 of them were young debutants and without their best player Harsha so I hope you can see why Bangladesh are ranked above New Zealand. I also hope you remember the 4-0 thrashing we gave to New Zealand a few years back something again minnows don't do. I hope you as well are not worried that India may lose to Bangladesh now especially since the top older Indian players have or are retired retiring :D

  • Joe on January 10, 2013, 15:11 GMT

    New Zealand are new minnows and hardly anyone shows up to watch their matches. Even in test matches, there are hardly any crowd no atmosphere whatsoever like that South Africa series last year.