I’m going to diverge slightly from my usual ravings for a moment, to talk about the state of cricket in NZ.
It seems that NZ Cricket has stepped up it’s involvement in recent times, with outspoken head Justin Vaughan fast becoming a near-ubiquitous feature of media reports and broadcasts.
And it is good to see strong leadership in the sport, provided it knows it’s place - but that leads me to the issue of Stephen Fleming. I’m still a bit stunned personally that one of NZ’s most successful and universally-respected captains of all time - even the Aussies at their peak never had anything but praise and admiration for the man - was relieved of his captaincy. Statistics never told the tale when it came to Steven Fleming, and I can’t help but feel that the NZ side have lost a couple of what could have been valuable years under the leadership of one of the best we’ve had, and that it’s more than a little criminal to have Fleming walk out into the park in the NZ test uniform in a role other than captain.
I’ve grown to dislike World Cup Fever (an attitude I probably share with a lot of Kiwis, after our sporting debacles of 2007) - the ’special preparations’ that the teams put in during the lead-up year, the frantic pressure on the players, the drastic changes and measures put in place in an effort to miraculously step things up (often to no avail, in my opinion), and the one-track mind focus on the whole furore, at the expense of all else.
I think Fleming was the obvious (after-the-fact) victim of WCF this time around, but I also think that the selection and development departments have at times squandered the opportunity to foster and build a stronger and more consistent team when they’ve had the chance. For one thing, selectors are too quick to act on short-lived form of late. There’s more of a tendency to drop players overnight if their past few performances aren’t at the high end of their achievement scale. This can be seen with Stephen Fleming, and perhaps even moreso with the recent announcement that Scott Styris won’t be part of the current test squad.
Perhaps I’m a little simple-minded when it comes to the backroom tactics and reasonings of cricket, but I can’t help wishing that team selection was primarily driven by old-school criteria such as "being one of the country’s best-performing and most respected international batsmen". I respect the fact that they wish to have batsmen who they feel can occupy the crease a long time in the impending test series, but to focus on that to the extent that you’d overlook a player of Styris’ ilk? Not good selection in my books. If Cumming, Sinclair and co. work out, then great, but I still don’t think it’s fair to leave Styris out on the basis of only a couple of tough series abroad, after all of his positive and consistent achievements in both forms of the game over a long period of time, and excellent form.
It’s a fair tactic to plan and groom players for the future, but I don’t believe that NZ has the depth of talent to forego recognised world-class players on a regular basis, in pursuit of a gamble hoping to stumble upon some winning formula of fresh talent. Particularly not when some of your top players (including the best pace bowler NZ has seen for literally decades*) are being enticed away to rebel leagues, and when early retirement by experienced and accomplished players seems to be becoming more and more commonplace (is it because they’re "past it"? or because the administrative environment became untenable?).
While it’s understood that NZ Cricket has a duty to the game itself, let’s not forget the game’s most valuable asset - the experienced players. And let’s also not forget that we are a small country with few sporting resources compared to many of our rivals, and that we are often, by default, the underdog. Hastily throwing out players that, despite a bad patch, have thoroughly proven themselves on the world stage, and hoping that new blood will suddenly elevate us to the top is just not going to work.
*RIP Shane Bond in NZC - probably. Seeing one of our quicks bowl out the Aussies (instead of the other way around, for once) was one of the greatest highlights of my 25-year-and-counting cricket-watching career.