December 24, 2011

All dark for the Black Caps

The year started and ended well in terms of results. That apart, there was plenty of cause for despair

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II had one in 1992; the New Zealand cricket team had their annus horribilis this year. The only things royal about the latter were the levels of anger, pity, and later apathy, among New Zealand's fan base. The team largely capitulated at home against South Africa, away in the West Indies, and onward to India, the World Twenty20, and Sri Lanka.

The year was bookended by Test victories against Zimbabwe at home - a record innings and 301-run result in Napier, inside three days - and the gritty triumph against Sri Lanka in Colombo. There was little to celebrate in between, with six losses in the other eight Tests. Ten losses in 13 completed one-dayers didn't help, nor did six defeats in 15 T20 internationals - including two in Eliminator overs at the World Twenty20.

The year concluded with a festering public relations shambles over the captaincy. Few emerged with reputations unscathed.

John Wright left as coach after a disastrous West Indies tour, where the team lost all but a solitary one-dayer in nine internationals across the three formats. They were saved from too much scrutiny by the successful New Zealand Olympic campaign in London.

That highlighted another problem with the current regime. Media now rarely tour with the team because of the significant costs and the public's diminished interest. No print or radio media covered the Sri Lankan tour in November - the first time in years this had happened.

Mike Hesson was appointed coach from the India tour onwards.

The New Zealanders were credible at the World Twenty20, tying with both eventual finalists - the champions, West Indies, and Sri Lanka - but lacked killer instinct. Hesson then drew the ire of some when it was revealed he tried to convince Ross Taylor to stand down as captain ahead of the Sri Lanka Tests in November.

Individual highlights were few. Kane Williamson's 102 not out to draw the Wellington Test with South Africa was the gutsiest Test innings by a New Zealander in years, let alone by a 21-year-old in his 12th Test. He managed to pass 50 just once in his next ten Test innings trying to make the adjustment to No. 3, but struck back with a ton against Sri Lanka in the Colombo victory.

Tim Southee showed glimpses of becoming a Test bowling spearhead, with 25 wickets at 22.64 in six Tests after struggling to hold his place earlier in the season. At 24, Southee along with Trent Boult, 23, and Doug Bracewell, 22, are long-term pace prospects.

High hopes remain for BJ Watling as a Test wicketkeeper-batsman at No. 6; Daniel Flynn showed resilience at No. 5 in the Sri Lanka series; and Martin Guptill excelled in the West Indies Tests and Zimbabwe limited-overs matches but little else.

Jesse Ryder opted out of cricket for a while after an altercation with a fan in a Napier hotel in February. Daniel Vettori was hampered by injury for much of 2012 and missed the South African tour. The 33-year-old played just five Tests (the last against West Indies in July). He averaged 20.62 in eight innings batting and took five wickets at 87.80. Following his retirement from one-dayers after the World Cup, he returned to limited overs for the World Twenty20 but hobbled away for surgery on his hernia and Achilles tendon shortly afterwards.

Vettori's spin bowling successor is yet to be found. Jeetan Patel appears closer to the end than the start of his career, legspinner Tarun Nethula suffered the yips in India. Todd Astle, though, made a sound debut with bat and ball in Sri Lanka.

High point
The Test win over Sri Lanka was the most significant in purist terms. New Zealand had failed to beat them at home in more than 14 years. Facing a barrage of criticism after their second-innings capitulation in the first Test, Taylor and Williamson eked out centuries in a 262-run partnership for the third wicket, a record for any New Zealand pair in Sri Lanka. Taylor backed up with 74 in the second innings. Southee and Boult swung the visitors to victory with figures of 8 for 120 and 7 for 75 respectively. It was a crowning moment to a desperate performance that staved off equalling the New Zealand record of six defeats in a row, set in 1954-55.

Low point
Taylor produced a Man-of-the-Match batting performance in Colombo, bringing pride to New Zealand's dented ego. What was unknown at the time was that he had been subject to a meeting with Hesson, manager Mike Sandle and assistant coach Bob Carter before the series and asked if he'd make way as captain for Brendon McCullum. Taylor refused. When the same suggestion came post-Sri Lanka, in a catastrophic piece of timing, it exposed a team rift to a baying public. Bangladesh pushed New Zealand to ninth for the first time in the one-day world rankings the same week. It remains uncertain how tenable the Hesson/Taylor relationship can be in future.

New kid on the block
Trent Boult started the year with a question mark over his spot, given fellow left-armer, Neil Wagner, would soon be eligible. There was also competition to make the first XI from Southee, Doug Bracewell, Mark Gillespie and Chris Martin.

Boult has an immaculate wrist position that enables the ball to swing, and is now considered the logical new-ball partner to Southee. He has 26 wickets at 29.11 in eight Tests, including those of Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Sachin Tendulkar, Chris Gayle, Mike Hussey, Jacques Kallis and Gautam Gambhir. More than half Boult's dismissals have been top-order players. He is already being considered an option in one-dayers, provided he adjusts his lengths and variations.

To put Boult's potential in context, only 15 left-arm pace bowlers have played for New Zealand. Richard Collinge (1965-78), with 116 wickets at 29.25 in 35 Tests, is the only other one to average under 30.

What 2013 holds
New Zealand's results in 2012 bode poorly. The leadership crisis has not helped. This is a team with everything to prove in South Africa, where they haven't won a Test since the sex, drugs and rock n' roll tour of 1994-95. In fact, New Zealand have only won three out of 21 against South Africa away in an 80-year Test history. The prospects of the eighth-ranked Test country unsettling the world No. 1 at home seem slim, as does the chance afterwards of rattling second-ranked England home or away. Still, hope springs eternal. Perhaps an annus mirabilis is closer than it seems.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nazmul Hassan on December 26, 2012, 8:18 GMT

    i hope nz will win this one...

  • Neil on December 24, 2012, 23:07 GMT

    The NZE board needs to ensure 1st of all, they get sufficient Tests, at least 5 or 6 in a home summer and then negotiate for Tours ( i know often they are not offered the longer series abroad). its a young team with a lot of potential, but there is a lack of depth and experience, so they are badly hampered by any injuries and are exposed under pressure. Early retirements and injuries to bowlers (am guessing because of short FC seasons), have robbed them of a decent transition from the Fleming there needs to be continiuty and a lot of patience (and tolerance with talent, Jesse Ryder!)....The 3 young bowlers should only get better, Southee performances in the subcontinent, must be the biggest encouragement...with bowling like that, you will always win matches....stick with McCullum as opener (there really is nothing else), bring Taylor back at 3 and give Brownlie a proper run...make sure the team gets solid starts...but most important keep them all fit

  • Dummy4 on December 24, 2012, 13:38 GMT

    ross tailor.......................get well soon

  • Owen on December 24, 2012, 12:33 GMT

    @LillianThompson -'I think Ryder should be in the team any time he isn't behind bars' is an absolute gem of a statement! I am with you on the main thrust of your first post as well, which I understood as being that NZ have some good talent with the potential of taking on the rest of the world if their management sorted themselves out and nurtured rather than bullied.

    @Chris Rowe, agreed with your line-up there, and with the bowling attack you have it would be a mean looking team! Could only be made more scary by having Sauron in at 6, perhaps you could coax him in once he has finished filming The Hobbit?

  • David on December 24, 2012, 11:33 GMT

    @Addyblaze Australia's fall from number 1 to number 4 coincided with the premature expulsion of Symonds.

    Good captains and management mould disparate personalities into a unit, but don't need to make them friendly to one another or cuddly or respectable. Remember the mutual enmity between Coney and Hadlee?

    I think Ryder should be in the team any time he isn't behind bars. Taylor should have been grovelled to in order to get him to South Africa.

    I keep my staff onside, most of whom have higher IQs and bigger egos than this lot. Why can't NZ Cricket show some leadership as opposed to bullying and humiliating its most precious resources?

  • Dummy4 on December 24, 2012, 11:19 GMT

    What also isn't mentioned in the article is NZ has only had 2 series of any type of cricket at home. Zimbabwe and South Africa. I'd expect every team to win in their own conditions. Especially teams like Sri Lanka, India, Australia.

  • Dummy4 on December 24, 2012, 11:16 GMT

    Van Wyk did nothing in the tests. 1 score over 50. he did bat with with the bowlers quite often but still regularly got out to poor shots. eg. sweeping yorkers. why McCullum is at 3 still confuses me? if there is an early wicket suddenly he cant be his aggressive self. Nicol might be a decent player if he figured out there was an offside of the field to hit to, too many times you see him getting out, swining across the line. 1 McCullum 2 Ryder 3 Guptill 4 Taylor 5 Williamson with williamson going up and ryder going down for tests. that's an amazing top 5 that NZC have ruined.

  • Adarsh on December 24, 2012, 9:24 GMT

    @LillianThomson - Surely you don't believe Oram's good enough to play Test cricket? I appreciate the NZ management hasn't been in the best PR form lately.

    That being said Taylor's leadership, his status as NZ's best batsman notwithstanding, has been uninspired and flat. This in spite of NZ sporting their best bowling attack in years.

    Ryder's behaviour has been far from exemplary, not entirely deserving of dignity and respect however precocious his talent, and he's fortunate not to have gone the Symond's way in being expelled from the team entirely. With his back problem, Vettori can only play a holding role in Tests, how that strikes you as competence is beyond me.

    Chris Martin? Bracewell, Southee, Boult, McLenegham and Wagner....why would Martin even come close to selection? Population is irrelevant to a country's sporting success. SA, Aus and Eng are miles ahead of the Indian team and I don't remember the West Indian team of old being ten billion strong.

  • David on December 24, 2012, 9:01 GMT

    @ammclean I've posted on the Mitch Johnson article that balance in a Test team is everything.

    In South Africa, that means that you need 3 specialist quick bowlers plus a "spare" fast-medium bowling all-rounder, which is why Kallis has thrived for years and why Azhar Mahmood did so well there.

    With Southee injured, I'd be happy having no spinner and using Martin, Bracewell, Boult and Wagner as the main attack with Oram bowling 3-4 over spells to keep them fresh.

    There are very few teams in world cricket which can afford to exclude star players. Consider Pakistan in England and Australia without Younis and Yousuf, West Indies without Gayle, etc.

    And I really couldn't care less what Jesse Ryder does off the pitch so long as he stays out of jail. I still don't put him forward as a role model for my kids. But if he can bat better than the current lot, play him NOW!

  • Andrew on December 24, 2012, 8:36 GMT

    @LillianThomson - great that you are 'in' with the players. Shame you've not worked out that Jacob Oram battles to get through a walk with the dog without injury - how's he supposed to survive a Test match?

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