The Black Caps’ Indian summer has encouraged Kiwi fans to dare to wonder if we are on the verge of a golden era of New Zealand cricket. A friend framed it in more concrete terms: how would the Black Caps go against Australia?
To take the glass-half-empty approach, their recent and current opponents haven’t come close to replicating the Australian formula that reduced a much-vaunted England team to a demoralised rabble: a tight-knit, highly motivated (and therefore resilient, energetic and intense) unit playing an aggressive, take-no-prisoners brand of cricket based on sustained, hostile and disciplined pace bowling.
Such a pace bowling unit is to cricket what a big, brutal, relentless and technically proficient forward pack is to rugby: it becomes a whole different ball game.
The glass-half-full approach is that the Black Caps have come closer to replicating the Australian formula than the other three teams on show Down Under this summer: England, India and the West Indies.
The fact that New Zealand has played winning and entertaining cricket obviously reflects well on the leadership of coach Mike Hesson and captain Brendon McCullum, and is to some extent a vindication of Hesson’s decision to replace the captain he inherited – Ross Taylor – with one of his choosing.
However, the issue was never whether Hesson had the right to change captains: he assuredly did. It was the way Taylor’s dumping was handled. Nor should it be forgotten that Hesson, with the backing of New Zealand Cricket, maintained throughout that he’d proposed splitting the job: Taylor would continue to captain the test team with McCullum taking charge of the one-day international and Twenty20 sides. (Taylor had the clear impression he’d been stripped of the captaincy full stop, the implication being that the split-captaincy idea was more a PR gambit than a serious proposition.)
Whatever the truth of the matter and with the benefit of hindsight, it’s safe to say such an arrangement would have been problematical, if not a recipe for disaster.
There are echoes of the Taylor affair in the decision to terminate the international career of England’s best batsman and biggest drawcard, Kevin Pietersen. Unlike Taylor, the South African-born and -raised Pietersen has always been a turbulent figure.
He came perilously close to being dispensed with in 2012 after he made derogatory remarks about England captain Andrew Strauss in texts to members of the South African team that England happened to be playing at the time.
From a distance, however, it seems as if the 33-year-old has been made the scapegoat for England’s disastrous Ashes campaign. (Although he had a lean series by his standards, he was still England’s top run-scorer.) That impression is reinforced by the fact that, along with the England Cricket Board’s incoming managing director, the decision was made by the ostensible leaders of said disastrous campaign: outgoing head coach Andy Flower, limited overs coach Ashley Giles, the frontrunner to succeed Flower, and captain Alistair Cook.
As in Taylor’s case, the official pronouncements have raised more questions than they have provided answers. Given the waffle about “rebuilding”, it will be fascinating to see if there are recalls any time soon for two of the tour’s casualties: Jonathan Trott (32), who bailed out after the first test because, to put it brutally, he couldn’t handle the heat in the kitchen; and vice-captain Matt Prior (31), who had to be dropped when his batting deteriorated to the point that it could no longer compensate for his increasingly fallible wicketkeeping.