Astle's exclusion part of long-term plans, says Bracewell
Astle returned from a prolonged batting slump to score a match-winning unbeaten 90 in New Zealand's five-wicket win over Sri Lanka at Christchurch on Tuesday, but was dropped to accommodate Stephen Fleming, who returned from paternal leave for the last two matches of the series.
John Bracewell, New Zealand's coach, defended his stance on Astle by saying that the side needed to expand its depth and build competition within the ranks as preparation for the World Cup in 2007. Bracewell's announcement generated much criticism given that Hamish Marshall, also in a slump, was retained despite scoring just 12 in the last match.
Bracewell's justification for this was that Marshall was a middle-order batsman and that Astle was replaced by a top-order batsman. Marshall has been the worst-performing batsman in the squad for nearly a year, but Bracewell said neither his run-drought nor Astle's revival justified a change in plan.
"I was quite clear with Nathan last [Tuesday] night, which isn't the easiest thing to do when a guy comes off in that position, to give him that sort of news," he told the New Zealand Herald today. "But we've got to understand that we need to develop depth within our cricket to be competitive. That's pretty difficult to understand if you're the individual affected."
Bracewell conceded that he and Astle weren't necessarily seeing eye-to-eye on the subject. "It was tough for him. He accepted it. I'm not quite sure if he really understands it yet," he added. "But if you look back at anybody in that situation, they don't necessarily have the understanding, or even the desire to understand."
On Astle's series-winning knock at Jade Stadium, Bracewell admitted it was a good sign. "I don't think he batted with particular fluency but he delivered the character that we were wanting; the sort of character you get from a guy who digs that little bit deeper when they're not in form," he said. "There was effort. There was a ton of stickability and grit, which is something else that you need within your players. You've got to admire that."
Bracewell also said that Marshall showed improvement in the past couple of matches. "I think he's starting to come along better than he was in the Australian series. He was unfortunate to be given out handled-ball, but that's international cricket for you," he said. "He's saving us 30 runs a game in the field and that's important. It almost balances the ledger. I haven't given him or anyone a guarantee because we're trying to create that competition within the squad. But I thought he batted really well - up until that point when he handled the ball."