Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: The Black Caps are awful

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It has been a cricketing summer of relentless frustration and fascination.

It ended on an inevitable note yesterday, as a classy Indian side continued to humiliate the Black Caps.

This is no place for excuses and while we may not be overly good at cricket, we shouldn't be this bad. Sometimes, the Black Caps are absolute rubbish.

I can't let this moment go without referring back to the statements from the Black Caps coach Andy Moles before the final day of the second test in Napier, a game played on a wicket so benign that it made our batters look world class. And that takes some doing.

"There is a lot of confidence in our dressing room," Moles opined, as if he was in charge of Manchester United.

"We know we can score runs and bowl the Indians out ... moving to the next test we will be full of confidence."

What a load of nonsense, and anyone with any sort of cricket knowledge - and an Indian team list - knew that the Napier escape was a mirage. Tendulkar, Laxman, Dravid, Sehwag, Harbhajan, Sharma, Khan, Dhoni ... what a lineup, and it has been a privilege to have them here.

And what can we throw back at that - Guptill, McIntosh, a number six like James Franklin, and fresh faced Tim Southee. Ouch.

Come on Mr Moles, we ain't that stupid.

The Black Caps are, let's face it, pretty awful by world test standards. It is a case of hanging on and hoping for better days. But the summer of cricket was still fascinating. Chris Gayle, the languid West Indian captain of enormous batting power and a good sense of life, will never be forgotten. This Indian team is rewriting history. The good spirit between New Zealand and their opponents should also be held up for applause.

History determines our expectations. Had the All Blacks returned test results like the cricketing ones against India, there would be howling in the streets. When the cricketers get a pasting, we grimace and try to bear it.

And it wasn't all bad.

Downbeat Jesse Ryder made us upbeat, and Ross Taylor continued to deliver in erratic doses. Iain O'Brien is a genuine character deserving admiration. The TV commentators shone. O'Brien writes a groundbreaking blog. Small change, I know, but worth remembering.

I'll own up here and confess that I can barely remember what happened in the one-day games, and don't want to remember anything about Twenty20 cricket. They are for others to enjoy.

This marvellous and enchanting sport is all about test cricket and always will be. Despite a run of dreadful weather, fortune and results, the 2008-09 season still had charm.

If you are going to rely on victories to enjoy New Zealand cricket, pull up stumps. We simply don't have the resources to compete.

My earliest recollections of cricket seem to involve watching Australians with names like Chappell and Walters batting for ever and a day against our mob. Now and then we would come up with an extraordinary victory, or maybe a stanza such as the record opening partnership between Glenn Turner and Terry Jarvis on the early 1970s West Indian tour.

On the minus side, our current players don't quite have the fight or nous that existed in the troops of old and the surprise victories aren't arriving either.

All things considered, the national side almost copes, although it is an eternal frustration that the lack of anything approaching B-grade opening batsmen prevents the Black Caps from realising their potential. This is the handbrake on New Zealand cricket.

Whatever New Zealand Cricket is doing to find openers, it ain't working. If ever a sport needed to put together a think tank in an effort to sort out a specific problem, then this is the cause.

Daniel Vettori's captaincy isn't exactly a sure bet either.

He has got something of a free ride in terms of criticism or a lack of it so far, and it is interesting to contemplate what the public response might have been to the Hamilton and Wellington capitulations had Stephen Fleming and John Bracewell still been in charge.

Vettori entered international cricket as a shock selection to most of us. He was the gawky new kid who won us over, and it's a favourable image that has endured.

Fleming was urbane and aloof, and at times almost asleep.

He faced the continual charge that his batting talents were unfulfilled, with a handy statistic - the oft quoted conversion rate of 50s to 100s - offered as proof of his failure. There isn't a similar statistic to measure a bowler, which has helped Vettori escape a similar charge.

As of now, Fleming is the vastly superior captain and there must be a concern that Vettori's leadership is never going to amount to anything remarkable.

Just about all the great skippers have been batsmen and Vettori is doing nothing to disprove this rule with a run of heavy defeats against England, Australia and now India. It could be time to roll the dice again.

As for the immediate future, there is a lot of promise (you have to say that) and no doubt the results will be the same (unfortunately).

If there is a change on the horizon, it may be the emergence of tough South African-origin cricketers in New Zealand cricket.

As a devoted follower of New Zealand cricket, you learn to take the knocks. Expectations are never too high. Hopefully we will continue to produce enough good players to remain in the hunt, and that somewhere down the road, a player or players will emerge so that we can re-live the glorious Hadlee-inspired era once again.

Ah yes. There's another quirky memory. Richard Hadlee, the great man, turned up on television during the Wellington test, his conversation still littered with statistics from his own career.

"I was the third change bowler and bowled my first delivery at 12.13 and finished up with five for 56 off 28 overs which was the 19th best haul of my 18-year career," is normal conversation to Paddles.

He unashamedly revels in having been knighted.

It was wonderful to see him again. He is New Zealand's finest sportsman by my count, with the added bonus of being hilarious without trying.

* Despite reports to the contrary, the Warriors have no intention of moving to Eden Park. But there could be an interesting twist to this story.

Sources say the Warriors are more than happy with their home at Mt Smart Stadium. Like a lot of people, they know that Eden Park is a failure as a modern football venue, and would be totally inappropriate for a league club that draws crowds between 10,000 and 20,000.

As for holding playoff games this year, it's hardly feasible since the place is under reconstruction and down on capacity.

But people in high places have mooted a double header concept which would involve the Warriors playing a match at Eden Park and the Blues playing at Mt Smart. This could become a regular feature, the venue alternating each season.

Ideally, the double header would have a geographical theme. For instance, the Warriors would play the Brisbane Broncos and the Blues would play the Queensland Reds at the same venue on the same night.

Even if the scheduling could be arranged, a sticking point might be competing sponsors. It is early days for the concept, but there is a suggestion such a double header might be arranged to open the revamped Eden Park.

As a footnote to the Warriors-Eden Park story, a "local resident" tells me the neighbours would not be amused by any extra games because of traffic problems. And, the resident added, the Eden Park neighbours are not to be taken lightly.

* John Hopkins, the golf correspondent for the Times newspaper, is a brave man. Last year, I noted his prediction that Tiger Woods had no chance of winning the 2008 US Open because of injury. I suggested this was a tad foolhardy. Woods won the tournament, over five rounds and on one good leg. But Hopkins has taken a giant leap further, and on the eve of the Masters predicted that Woods will not even equal the Jack Nicklaus record of 18 major titles.

I wouldn't normally make great play about another person's predictions and we've all had our failures in this regard. But Hopkins' calls are so remarkable - betting against Woods is darned crazy. Woods already has 14 majors, and won a tournament almost immediately after his comeback from a knee reconstruction. I take my hat off to Hopkins though, because this is a prediction he will have to live with in one form or other until Tiger retires from the regular circuit. The only (tentative) prediction I would make is that this week's Masters is a major too soon for the Woods comeback, and that he won't win it. As for Johnny Miller's call that our very own Danny Lee can win the Masters - it is tempting to label this ridiculous except that Miller is a brilliant commentator. What a weekend we may have in store. And on second thoughts, it would be no surprise at all if Woods made it major title No 15. He thrives on creating stories like that.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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