April 9, 2014

Failing the spin test

To be considered one of the best teams in the world, New Zealand must play spin with more surety on the subcontinent

New Zealand lost four wickets for ten runs before being bowled out for 60 against Sri Lanka in Chittagong © Getty Images

The shadow of a ball whirring at myriad rpm from the hands of Rangana Herath and Sachithra Senanayake loomed large over New Zealand as they exited the World T20.

The wiles of spin struck again, just as they had on recent tours to the subcontinent against India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. New Zealand need to return to the laboratory and formulate an antidote before venturing to the United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan later this year, and West Indies in June.

Herath and Senanayake were accurate and probing, but the New Zealand batsmen - Kane Williamson apart - acted like the bowlers were hurling chainsaws in Dhaka. The New Zealanders played French cricket around their pads, fended forlornly, or in Brendon McCullum's case, looked to heave an imaginary six somewhere near the Ganges Delta.

A boom summer hasn't suddenly turned to bust. Achievements at home against West Indies and India outweigh being shunted from the World T20. However, playing spin under pressure creates contagion in the dressing room. To be considered one of the best teams in the world, it's imperative New Zealand play spin with more surety on the subcontinent.

New Zealand Cricket has taken initiatives. Last year a New Zealand A team went to India before the Bangladesh tour in October. New Zealand subsequently drew the Tests and lost the ODIs, followed by a drawn ODI series in Sri Lanka.

Their record in the subcontinent is poor, even since coach Mike Hesson injected his brand of composure, determination and pragmatism from July 2012. Since then, in six Tests away against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India they have won one - courtesy Ross Taylor's batting in Colombo, in his final Test as captain. In eight completed ODIs away against those sides they have won one; in six T20Is they have won three. The struggle against spin is constant.

Dramatic steps might be required, like cricketers committing to subcontinental working holidays. That way batsmen and bowlers can get better, which in turn could improve the quality of spin in New Zealand domestic competitions.

Perhaps the country's emerging talent could forsake the time-honoured tradition of English leagues and pints of best bitter to head for a cocktail of maidans and masala. Such adventures would introduce players to quality spin at an early age, with the long-term benefit of representing New Zealand more competently.

Achievements at home against West Indies and India outweigh being shunted from the World T20. However, playing spin under pressure creates contagion in the dressing room

NZC could establish links through former national players and coaches like David Trist, John Wright, and Stephen Fleming, who have forged solid contacts in the subcontinent. Intrepid cricketers could experience a local club for a couple of months, perhaps forgoing plush hotels for the "character-building" surrounds of a quality youth hostel or billet. Tuk-tuks rather than air-conditioned buses would be the choice of transport. NZC could offer scholarship assistance.

Donning a cap in humid mid 30-degree temperatures and practising your craft on the dustbowls of an expansive maidan on a Saturday afternoon, just like Sachin Tendulkar did a generation ago in Mumbai, must hold allure. Alternatively, players could make their name among the plethora of clubs in the Colombo suburb of Cinnamon Gardens.

Australia's Matthew Hayden exemplified the benefits of immersion when he prepared against spin for a month in India ahead of the legendary 2001 Test series that the hosts came back to win 2-1. Hayden's average of 109.80 was more than twice that of his next-best team-mate (Steve Waugh, at 48.60).

A sustained spell in a club competition is ambitious. Another option could be schooling players at one of numerous academies, particularly in India. Relationships could also be struck with a local association to face quality young spinners in net sessions.

Trist acclimatised to the culture by visiting Pune regularly over 12 years to assist with coaching and developing the game. He also went on subcontinental tours as a New Zealand player (1969-70) and coach (1999-2001).

"It's totally logical to send players for sustained periods, because unless you conquer at the homes of four Test nations you're seldom going to be in the money on the world stage. I've never fully understood why NZC has not established a relatively cheap base there. Once airfares are paid, the costs are not huge. I think the issue is, New Zealand has a hangover from the days when going there was equivalent to a death warrant, with the state of food and hygiene. Today, as a burgeoning middle class develops in India and Sri Lanka, it's more doable."

Trist says a mindset exists where touring the subcontinent equates with drudgery. "That's why we see pre-tour camps held in Australia or 'somewhere more convenient'. Those environments [simulate] the heat but not the culture shock. You've got to take a pragmatic approach to bridge the gap if New Zealand are to be an outstanding, rather than promising, international side.

"Embrace the vagaries of pitches, heat, and the challenges to preparation. Play spin constantly; India's not exactly short of quality net bowlers. It's all very well going to England and playing county or league cricket in similar conditions to home where you can head to the pub afterwards and feel familiar in the company of the locals. You can't afford to 'be a New Zealander' in India. Show a willingness to cope by immersing yourself in the culture and you'll come out a better person."

Hesson says they can't treat the World T20 crumble as an epidemic. "We've scored a lot of runs in the last year or so against spin, like 600-plus against Shane Shillingford and Co [in Dunedin]. Our high-performance plan to play spin occurs before the Black Caps, like through our A team programme. By the time they get to the Black Caps, they should have had an abundance of cricket to build defensive screens and be in a position to put those training hours into practice.

"Last year, we sent the likes of Anton Devcich, Jimmy Neesham, Colin Munro and Tom Latham to the subcontinent as examples of players who needed experience there. It is not difficult to build relationships with academies and associations. It's more about finding the necessary resources and finance and finding a space to fit it into the month a player has off each year."

Hesson says spinners also need to visit the subcontinent. "They have to adapt to the conditions by bowling more into the wicket because the variation comes more from skidding and turning on the surface rather than in the air."

Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • henry on April 11, 2014, 19:30 GMT

    @jord...wouldn't say that...Williamson didn't actually face to many balls from the successful spinner..very few in fact

  • Jordan on April 11, 2014, 6:03 GMT

    @shane_bond. We didnt get kicked out of the T20WC because we "failed to fire" we didn't need to fire. All we needed to do was be able to do was not lose wickets and the win was basically guarenteed.. But the blackcaps were so bad against spin that we collapsed for under 70 for not the first time this year.

    Being "realistic" would be accepting that the blackcaps weren't good enough playing spin and have to improve or this same problem will happen in tests and ODI's as well. You are being foolish if you believe we collapsed to such a bad score simply because it was a "hit and giggle" when realistically we only needed 6 an over which is an ODI RR.

    Williamson showed that the spin wasn't unplayable, he found it EASY!!, and the fact no one else could even manage 6 run's showed how terrible the rest of the batsman were. No one else had the ability to stand up and create a partnership, they folded like paper and ruined a chance to move up the T20 rankings. Let alone win a MAJOR trophy.

  • Android on April 11, 2014, 2:29 GMT

    @Hokeypokey. I'll agree with you here. We should have won that game but sadly Rosco didn't get the strike. Both these matches should have been won but it came down to our own choking instinct (funny that people always call Saffas the choker and forget us, The ultimate Semi Final chokes). Anyways, the tournament is done and dusted and I see us having a chance next year pretty realistic. But I don't think changing of coach or spending time in Sri Lanka would've helped. Media are always in denial. Simple motto, You lose you are worst and you win you're the best.

  • john on April 10, 2014, 7:13 GMT

    @bondy, whats fickle about 7runs off 6balls? And a run a ball vrs sri lanka? Very average, and most sides in the world would of easily made the semis..so im just asking a few questions, because I want us to win at home next year, but what I hear is a bunch of excuses (what happend to the dew spray excuse?)..and media who are in denial. .or are happy with average world results. .

  • Android on April 10, 2014, 6:07 GMT

    @HokeyPokey Certainly not. I would like to have or would have liked to have a trophy after 14 years but the fact is t20 is the most fickle format of the game. Make all strategies you want, train all the players but in the end if it's your day, you win or you don't. I don't think staying back in Sri Lanka would've helped. That series and World cup were 7-8 months apart. Besides they had played in Bangladesh. I will pick an inform batsman who can score hundreds and be labelled as best since Crowe rather than stay in SL and employ slog sweeps over midwicket.

  • Dummy4 on April 9, 2014, 23:20 GMT

    Yeah very true, they just need to play spin well as i think they are atleast a top 5 team.

  • Ranil on April 9, 2014, 23:17 GMT

    Look at the amazing progress Sri Lanka have made during the same period of time. I can remember how esteemedly NZ teams with Hadlee Rutherford, Coney were held when touring them at one time not too distant in the past and now NZ have become a sort of cannon fodder to them knocking NZ out in almost every ICC tournament. It is good thinking to make links with the two major countries in Asia ,Sri Lanka & India ( Pak with the obvious limitations) specially at under 19 level & A team levels. Colombo of course with the new progress has good night life & good beaches to enjoy!

  • Dummy4 on April 9, 2014, 19:48 GMT

    There are talks of the kiwis touring India later this year,so they better get equipped to play spin better or even Bmac will not be there to prevent the thrashing that the windies got

  • john on April 9, 2014, 18:20 GMT

    @shanebond, are you telling me a home seris against a depleted west indies and india (which I really enjoyed by the way) is more important than a world cup trophy?I bet if u ask any player/coach a world cup would be a pinnacle. .look how sri lanka have enjoyed their first wc for 19years..and for you and anderw alderson to down play a worldcup to a hit n giggle is a joke.

  • Abhijith on April 9, 2014, 14:26 GMT

    I think ICC or the Boards of the respective teams should send their 'A' teams to tour Asian countries which will give them the feel of sub continent pitches as they are not used to play too many spinners in County or in the Plunket Shield.That is one of the factors there are not too many quality spinners in New Zealand or in England excepting the retired Graeme Swann.. Even Ausralia struggled to find a good spinner travelling India and it turned out to be a nightmare for them thereafter.

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