Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here
When Mike Hesson took over as New Zealand's coach in July, he was lauded for his man-management skills. But it's hard to imagine a clumsier handling of the team's captaincy over the past month. Ross Taylor, New Zealand's leader and best batsman, has been left feeling so alienated that he is taking a break from the game, Brendon McCullum has been thrust into a job that not even Hesson intended him to have, and Hesson must now find a way to unite the squad ahead of a series against the world's No.1 Test side.
The crux of the problem appears to be Hesson's failure to communicate one key point to Taylor during a meeting on November 13. That was the day after Sri Lanka completed a 3-0 series victory in the ODIs, and four days before the first Test in Galle. Hesson was unhappy with the direction New Zealand had been heading in the shorter formats; they had slipped to ninth in the ODI rankings, below Bangladesh, and had been knocked out of the ICC World Twenty20 at the group stage.
In Hesson's mind, there was one obvious solution: splitting the captaincy. Taylor, who had taken over the leadership in the middle of 2011 and presided over the Test team's first win in Australia in a quarter of a century, would retain control of the Test team. He would play in the shorter formats but would hand the reins there to Brendon McCullum, allowing Taylor to focus all his leadership attention on the Test side.
It was a plan that might have had merit, but as modern coaches like to say, plans are only as good as their execution. Hesson's execution was about as precise as a bowler who leaks 30 runs in the last over of a World Cup final. At that meeting on November 13 - remember, this is before the Tests in Sri Lanka - Hesson told Taylor that he would recommend leadership changes after the tour. He meant in the short formats. But he didn't tell that to Taylor.
"The news and the timing was distressing," Taylor said in a statement on Friday. He went on to lead New Zealand through the two Tests, presumably under the impression they would be his last as captain. In response to Taylor's comments on Friday, Hesson attempted to clarify what had happened at the meeting in Sri Lanka, at which the assistant coach Bob Carter and team manager Mike Sandle were also present.
"During that meeting I advised Ross that I would be recommending that we make change to the leadership," Hesson said. "My decision to make him aware of that was the fact that I wanted to make sure he didn't find out through another source. I was going to make that recommendation to the board, and I felt I wanted to be honest and up front with him in regards to that.
"The meeting was a review of the one-day series, but I didn't mention ... whether that was one form, two forms or three forms [that would be changed]. I alluded to the fact that I would be making a recommendation to make change to the leadership. I'm unsure how Ross felt regarding that discussion. I certainly regret if he felt that that was in relation to the Test side. The review was following the one-day series."
The fact that Hesson was unsure how Taylor felt speaks volumes. Taylor was about to captain New Zealand in two Tests. Did Hesson not think to ask Taylor what he thought about a leadership change? Did he not think to clarify that his intention was for Taylor to stay in charge of the Test side. On Friday, Hesson went on to say that during the discussion Taylor had the opportunity to seek clarification and didn't do so. But this wasn't Taylor's plan, it wasn't up to him to do the communicating.
"As soon as we returned to New Zealand, I advised Ross that the recommendation had been placed with the board and I would like him to remain on as captain of the Test side and to share the load and for Brendon McCullum to be captain of the one-day and T20 Black Caps sides," Hesson said.
As soon as the team returned to New Zealand? So, in other words, only after Taylor had scored a match-winning 142 and 74 in Colombo, where he led New Zealand to their first Test victory in Sri Lanka since 1998. It's easy to imagine how Taylor felt. If he'd spent the Test series thinking he was to be removed as Test captain, a post-tour offer to stay on might have felt a little insincere.
What is lost in the confusion is that Hesson's plan to split the captaincy between Taylor and Brendon McCullum might have worked. Since Taylor took over the leadership in the middle of 2011, he led them to only two one-day international victories from eight completed games, and both wins were against Zimbabwe. In Tests, he has now led them to wins in Australia and Sri Lanka, both extremely rare achievements for New Zealand.
Ironically, McCullum now finds himself in charge of all three formats, the very burden that Hesson wanted to relieve Taylor of. But the messy process, and the way it played out in the public, has left Taylor unwilling to tour South Africa, leaving New Zealand without their finest batsman against Dale Steyn and Co, the world's best attack. It will take some serious man management, and execution of plans, for Hesson to get everyone back on the same page.