The New Zealand Herald must have questioned its timing in putting together an in-depth analysis of what’s wrong with New Zealand cricket – “The Shame Game” – as the Black Caps were romping to a test victory in Sri Lanka. It needn’t have worried. When it comes to our summer game, screw-ups and self-inflicted wounds are like New York taxis: it’s just a matter of time before another one comes along.
Even given New Zealand Cricket’s (NZC) tendency to make running a sport seem as fiendishly difficult as bringing peace to the Middle East, its latest gambit – dumping Ross Taylor as Black Caps captain – is a jaw-dropper, one of the great sporting PR disasters of our time. Scanning news websites’ message boards, I was bombarded with such sentiments as “Hope the Black Craps [sic] get thrashed” and “Washing my hands of the game”.
In the space of a few months, NZC has lost, mislaid, alienated or undermined the following: an experienced international coach who enjoyed strong public support (John Wright); Jesse Ryder; Taylor; Taylor’s mentor and former Black Cap great Martin Crowe; former Australian coach and Taylor supporter John Buchanan who, 18 months ago with great fanfare and at great expense, was installed as NZC’s director of cricket and big-picture man.
Those with an eye for detail and an awareness that the Black Caps’ abiding weakness is their failure to make enough runs will note that the goners are our two best batsmen and three guys who know an awful lot about batting at the top level.
A number of things simply don’t add up. For instance, the charge levelled at both Wright and Taylor was that they were poor communicators, unlike new coach Mike Hesson who is supposedly really good at it.
How is it, then, that Hesson, in two face-to-face meetings, could leave Taylor in no doubt that he wasn’t rated or wanted as captain, when in fact Hesson was only talking about the short forms of the game and earnestly desired Taylor to remain in charge of the test team? There’s a Tui billboard in there somewhere.
New skipper Brendon McCullum found suggestions that he had had anything to do with Taylor’s dumping “highly insulting”. He may have reason to feel hurt, but he shouldn’t be surprised that the cricketing public strongly suspects there was dirty work at the crossroads.
As usually happens in New Zealand cricket, the shafting was preceded by and then spun with a whispering campaign. According to anonymous but garrulous “sources close to the team”, Taylor had lost the support of senior players; One News had it on good authority that he was “shunned” by his teammates.
You can hardly blame fans for perceiving this as an anti-Taylor conspiracy driven by individuals in the coaching/management group or the team itself or both. Nor can you blame them for wondering who these senior players are. The only players on the Sri Lankan tour who qualified on the basis of longevity and track record were Taylor himself; fast bowler Chris Martin who didn’t make the test side and who, at 38, is surely on the slow train to the knacker’s yard; and, er, McCullum.
Rightly or wrongly, the recent chain of events and swirl of obfuscation encourage the interpretation that there’s a faction within the game that is hell-bent on sidelining anyone who isn’t in their camp and on their wavelength. They may well succeed; after all, there can’t be too many recalcitrants left to sideline. Whether anyone else will still give a damn is another matter.