Planning is the key to Canterbury success under Tony Murdoch
The first thing that hits you upon entering Canterbury Cricket's spacious Cambridge Terrace headquaters, located on the first floor of what probably was once a large colonial home, is the glint of silverware.
Dozens of cups, plates, bowls and trophies adorn a very large bookcase just inside the entranceway.
A quick perusal turns up, among others, the Walter Hadlee Cup - awarded for senior fielding, sportsmanship, punctuality and dress. But the Shell Cup, the award for winning New Zealand's premier domestic one-day competition, which Canterbury lends to other provinces about once or twice a decade, is notable by its absence.
That's because its sitting on a small table with two other items of recently polished silverware (the conference plate and Under-19 national championship trophy), just outside the office of Canterbury Cricket Association chief executive officer Tony Murdoch.
But Murdoch's office, for a sports administrator, is strangely free of sporting memorabilia. Talking with Murdoch it quickly becomes apparent that while trophies and titles are the trappings that indicate success, their acquisition is not the primary objective of the Canterbury Cricket Association. In fact, the 48-year old former school teacher struggles to recount just how many titles Canterbury have won during his six-year tenure. He eventually settles on five Shell Cups, five national women's titles, two Shell Trophies and a number of age-grade national titles.
Canterbury Cricket has faced some major challenges during Murdoch's time in the top job, most notably the battle to continue playing cricket at the association's traditional Jade Stadium home. But, he says, it has still managed to perform its primary function of producing players for national selection.
"Those changes to the historic use of that ground (Jade Stadium) have preoccupied the association to a large degree. But we have successfully maintained our role as a leading cricket province and at the same time have continued to produce national players, which is ultimately what our structure is required to do. While the venue issues have predominated weve managed to keep our eye on the playing side of things."
Murdoch says Canterbury's success during his tenure is best measured through the number of players that have achieved national selection.
"Ultimately your job is to produce players for the national teams. When youve accomplished that you move on and start to develop another one. It can be very frustrating and very difficult. I think the six seasons in the second half of the 1990s when we still managed to keep winning the Shell Cup and we won the trophy twice, by and large with second tier players - they're real highlights."
Murdoch's belief in the importance of developing players for the national side is genuine. The only time the born and bred Cantabrian's demeanour changes from relaxed and controlled is a slight hint of pride and genuine excitement at the mention of Chris Martin's recent elevation to the Black Caps.
Murdoch doesn't hesitate when asked how the association has been able to produce players such as Nathan Astle, Chris Cairns, Stephen Fleming and Craig McMillan, who have dominated New Zealand's batting line-up in recent times.
"They played on great pitches at Jade Stadium. There was a particularly talented group of players that came through with David Trist in the late 80s, early 90s. Under Denis Aberhart and now Garry MacDonald we've managed to maintain that flow of players."
He says the key to Canterbury continuing its dominance is maintaining strong competition for places in the top team. "To do that you have to keep producing players and provide them the opportunity to showcase themselves against the other players. That comes back to a competitive, strong senior competition.
"We committed ourselves to a higher level of spending on the next tier down of players. We try and keep our players in the game longer, which incurs costs, but we also try and support a second XI team when in fact there has been no national second XI competition."
Murdoch is pleased at the return, after a five year absence, of a national second XI competition, and he believes it is the reason for an increased enthusiasm and competitiveness in senior club cricket this year. "We had a long term strategy of getting that back up. We've finally been listened to and were delighted."
While other associations have courted success through luring players from other associations and importing county professionals, Canterbury's focus has been very much on developing the region's own players. Murdoch says player recruitment tends to take care of itself.
"The point is if you have a good internal structure and people recognise that your province gets people into national teams then players will come here."
Murdoch is coming towards the end of his second term as Canterbury Cricket's chief administrator. He wants to stay on in the job for at least another term and says he still has a number of things he'd like to achieve with the association. Projects include the development of a second-tier metropolitan ground, at Queen Elizabeth II Park's Village Green, able to host first-class, women's first XI and lower grade representative fixtures.
"The key for Canterbury Cricket was to finalise its tenancy of the redeveloped Jade Stadium. That's been done successfully. Cricket's historic rights have been recognised. Therefore the need to do anything to a higher level, at a higher cost, is not as paramount as it was a year ago when things for Canterbury Cricket were looking very dicey - when we'd lost the ability to host a Test match.
"There is a need to develop some facilities at QEII, but I don't believe we've got to go and break the bank on it."
Murdoch says there is also a pressing need for a quality Christchurch-based indoor training centre. "We currently are deficient in not having an indoor training facility of our own, and our outdoor training facilities, which cater to about 12 representative teams are not to the standard we would want. There is a real urgency for us to explore building an indoor training centre and start improving our outdoors facilities. We are fortunate to be able to use the Lincoln high performance centre for our senior teams (men's and women's first XIs) but we certainly need to develop our own."
Murdoch also believes there is an enormous amount of work to do in the areas of coaching and development. "Cricket, unlike other sports, has extremely poor routines for training and practising. We feel that generally Canterbury sports men and women like to go to training and work hard. It's evident in netball, rugby, soccer and hockey. Cricket, we feel, is falling down, so we've got a lot of work to do with our coaching structures."
This association is working on developing training methods that enhance fitness and enjoyment, and is encouraging clubs to use its services to train their coaches.
Despite Canterbury's on field successes, Murdoch describes the association's financial state as precarious. "We're not a wealthy organisation and we have to be extremely careful about how we spend our money. We're looking at ways of expanding our funding base but that's not too easy in these slightly difficult financial times."
However, the association has posted profits in each of the last two seasons and as a non-profit organisation Murdoch says the vast amount of its money is channelled back into the game.
The impact of twin international tours and heavy television coverage has made marketing domestic cricket difficult, says Murdoch. But while crowds sizes may be down public interest in the game is not.
"We still maintain extremely high profiles. People access the results and the coming and goings of the team. The numbers of people who followed CricInfo last season, when it was in its infancy, were very heavy and they're estimated to triple this year. If you're getting 120,000 people following the results of a Shell Trophy match over four days you're at a very high level of public awareness and understanding of what is happening in the game. That side of it is very exciting."