Captaincy challenge for Horne

Captaincy of Otago for its Shell Trophy campaign this summer is a vehicle for test batsman Matt Horne to get his game back on track.

Horne's rise to the leadership role was announced yesterday by Otago Cricket and he regards it as the "next little challenge" in his career.

He expects to be available for seven of Otago's 10 Trophy games after returning from New Zealand's tour to Africa, which starts tomorrow when the players not selected for the Singapore tournament fly out of Auckland to join the others before flying to Zimbabwe.

"I'll look to use it [the captaincy] to getting my game on track.

"Things are a little bit different in Otago this year. We have new players coming into the province this year and it is a case of getting everyone to gel together.

"There are players in Otago who haven't fulfilled their potential so it is up the team management to work on that.

"There has been a lack of confidence. The main thing has been to look at external things which were out of your control," he said.

The lack of depth in the region was also a factor because players were not under constant pressure for the positions in the team.

"This year there is more depth so there will be a lot competition for places and players will have to take every opportunity," he said.

Former New Zealand and Canterbury captain Lee Germon's transfer to Otago for the one-day Shell Cup series was an indication of the desire to improve the limited overs performances of the team.

Improving the self-belief of players in the one-day situation was an important step for the side, and Horne will be looking to build on that for the Trophy series. His approach would be one of "back to basics".

Horne has often spent time in the field pondering what might happen if certain approaches were tried.

"The big thing is going on instinct and backing yourself. I will have experience around me with guys who have played a lot of cricket, like Robert Lawson, Shayne O'Connor and Mark Richardson," he said.

Horne is an acknowledged student of cricket, and captaincy manuals have been part of his more recent reading.

"It is clear that that captaincy is a gift and good captains have an instinct to do something. How often do you see things happening in games too late?"

Horne's approach, to get the most out of the role, will be to keep things simple and work hard with his bowlers to get the most out of them.

"Otago will be an unknown quantity and will be until we know who is playing.

"I'm very optimistic. There is much to be done in the one-day area. But Lee [Germon] is experienced and very levelheaded.

"In the Trophy I'll be looking to make sure we do the basics right and that we keep guys fit. It is extremely promising and it will be a long season," he said.

Having a return to two rounds of Trophy play was a "huge move forward" as far as he was concerned.

"There hasn't been enough first-class cricket. I understand why that was, but if we are to improve as a cricket nation we have to play more often. There is so much more cricket now.

"We've had an 'A' team in England, an 'A' team in Australia, the Academy team in India. The chances are growing. And we will have international players involved in more domestic cricket. That is a definite necessity," he said.

But that is all in the future.

Horne's focus for the moment is the tour of Zimbabwe. After a disappointing season last year he is keen to regain the sort of form that helped New Zealand to its 1999 series win in England.

For a player who started the summer of 1999/00 with a first-class career average of 45.78 he had a disappointing return of 24.72 last year. At times the form that yielded 670 runs at 44.66 in England, and a Test century at Lord's which set up New Zealand's first Test victory there, seemed to have completely deserted him.

He's been working hard during the winter in Auckland with Dion Nash, Craig Spearman, Heath Davis and Kyle Mills and is looking forward to finally getting some action in the middle.

Horne said he had given his batting technique "a bit of an overhaul" and in the process had tried several things.

"Until you explore those things you don't know how they will work. But there will not be much that I have changed.

"We've just about knocked our heads against the wall and I'm ready to play.

"I had a disappointing year last year and I want to rectify that," he said.

Zimbabwe has played a lot of cricket in recent months and will be battle-hardened. But Horne rates New Zealand.

"I'm definitely very optimistic about our chances but we're aware history shows that Zimbabwe don't lost at home too often," he said.

New Zealand drew both its Tests when last touring there in 1997.

Matt Horne career statistics:

MINORunsHSAve 10050Ct StTests27512149715730.553514-First-class661173471024141.31141546-1999/00 FC season1323154414124.72112-