Paul Lewis: A lamb to the slaughter? Not quite ...

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So much has been said about John Bracewell's tenure as Black Caps coach - most of it unkind - that it was almost time to recall the fact that, whatever else he is, Bracewell was an almost pathologically competitive international player.

He would never have lost his wicket cheaply; as meekly as did so many of his charges against Australia in the recent test series. You never actually got Bracewell out; you just got the umpire to agree. He often left the crease smouldering and determined to do better next time.

When he fielded and bowled, he was a penetrating, irritating thorn in the side of the opposition; particularly the Australians, whom he respected but chose to demonstrate that respect by taking them on at their own snarling, confrontational game - something that never quite translated in his time as a coach.

Whatever his faults, he was a gutsy, courageous player for whom representing his country was a calling, not a career.

But the intention to lay out that side of the story lessened somewhat when Bracewell said in a radio interview last week that he had been deliberately lined up to take the Black Caps to Australia so new coach Andy Moles did not have to endure the ignominy of starting his career with a hiding.

Bracewell said it was better for him to take the 'kick in the head'. This is a stirring piece of selflessness, it appears - Bracewell taking one for the team.

There are two words to attach to this: Hog and wash.

Let's be clear about two things: First, Bracewell would not have taken the team to Australia had New South Wales coach Matthew Mott slipped out of the noose that he clearly felt was tightening around him and decided not to take the job as New Zealand cricket coach. It could even be supposed that Mott lost his taste for the challenge after his NSW side, full of rookies and no-names, decisively beat New Zealand in the warm-up game and after that abject showing in the Brisbane test.

The fact that it took NZC so long to land a coach could also be the basis of an argument that what Bracewell had achieved with the team was part of the reason for the reluctance of most of those wooed to succumb.

Second, even if Braces taking one for the team was the truth, it was a sad way to enter a tour against the world's most competitive cricketing nation. No one can tell me that attitude did not seep through to the players.

No-one expected the Black Caps to win that series. Far from it.

But most New Zealand cricket fans expected their team to show some heart, even though they were without the important presence of Jacob Oram.

That they didn't (at the batting crease anyway) showed the final, unmistakeable, essential failure of the Bracewell era - he failed to instil in his team the same fighting qualities he possessed as a player.

There will also always be the accusation that Bracewell's strong personality and mercurial disposition meant senior players left - think Stephen Fleming, Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan and others - before their time was due and when their experience and knowledge could have been strong nails in the new house Bracewell was attempting to build.

Bracewell's quixotic personality is well-known, as is that fiercely competitive nature - one reason why so many of the current Black Caps line-up say they like their coach; he asked them to do nothing he hadn't done himself.

His 'alternative' personality contrasted strongly with his deeply conservative attitude towards other things - like the media. The Auckland cricket team cracked up one day when Bracewell, still playing then, announced that he'd 'sold out' and purchased a picket fence.

Later that same season, Bracewell, angry at something written, organised the dressing room not to speak to me - and berated individuals he caught doing so. It was a mark of the strong personality and attitude he brought to coaching.

What caught most by surprise was the theories. Bucketloads of them; some based in common sense and Bracewell's admirable willingness to try something new. But there were the plain cuckoo ones as well, like the peer reviews where the player to be reviewed had to write down three words to describe themselves; a jury of his peers did the same and then they discussed the differences.

This can be a beneficial corporate exercise when it is done well and followed through; so that all issues are resolved and agreed. Bracewell's efforts appear to have caused confusion and resentment among some.

All that would have been forgiven and forgotten had the Black Caps showed some improvement, particularly in their batting. Collapses have been a feature of the Bracewell years. In his last tour of England - when it became known that Bracewell was heading back to county cricket - the Black Caps lost 2-0 in the test series, collapsing in the second innings of the second test and in the first in the third.

His teams generally performed well at one-day level and that is good for NZC coffers when all is said and done. The hit-and-giggle stuff is vital - no argument there - but test cricket is the real measure of the game. As Henry Blofeld once said: "One-day cricket is an exhibition. Test cricket is an examination."

Bracewell knows that as well as anybody. Yet his team seems to have got worse and worse in tests and that will likely be his lasting legacy. The Black Caps seem in dire need of an attitude transplant and it seems entirely confounding that the man who can't seem to achieve it is the one who most displayed it in his playing days.

Still, Bracewell was right about one thing. Moles will have been glad not to take the team to Australia. And it is a good time for the new coach to take over.

But that kick in the head Bracewell talked about?

Self-inflicted.

- Herald on Sunday

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