Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Stylish Styris proved point

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New Zealand would not have won Wednesday's one-dayer without Scott Styris. Photo / Getty Images
New Zealand would not have won Wednesday's one-dayer without Scott Styris. Photo / Getty Images

Funny thing, fate - and the determination of a top sportsman given a chance to prove himself can be a compelling piece of drama.

I'm talking about Scott Styris and the way he led the Black Caps to victory over the arch-enemy last week. It was as gutsy a knock as has been seen in recent years and it rated high on the defiance charts as well.

Even more, it showed the value of experience and a player familiar enough with the intense pressure of international sport to resist the gamesmanship of Australian bowler Mitchell Johnson.

Yet a hugely in-form Styris hasn't been in the Black Caps' plans this summer, although there was some fey talk of "we know what he can do" and nods in the direction of the future.

Here is a list of people preferred to him in the Twenty20 series and one dayers against Bangladesh and Australia: Neil Broom, James Franklin, Gareth Hopkins, Jacob Oram and Nathan McCullum.

Oram aside, not one of those can hold a candle to Styris' achievements, form and talent; not yet anyway. Yet it was clear that Styris wasn't about to be chosen and, had it not been for Daniel Vettori's bung neck, Styris would not have played on Wednesday. No Styris, no win.

All very strange. Yet when the Herald on Sunday's Andrew Alderson weighed in with a piece on January 31 ("Attitude behind omission") suggesting why Styris no longer figured, he was criticised severely within some sections of cricketdom.

The piece carried comments from well-placed people inside New Zealand cricket to support the view. Indeed, it was their comments that provoked the view.

All involved asked for confidentiality and we agreed to provide it if views were honestly given to the question: Why was Styris dropped?

Alderson researched the article impeccably and recorded the views of many people in cricket and in the know, whose names would easily be found in a New Zealand cricket Who's Who.

He also offered his own view - that Styris should play and not be dropped.

To this day, although Alderson has had some hate mail and some acid messages left on his voicemail, no-one has challenged the accuracy of the story.

Sometimes sportswriters in this country are criticised for being too close to those they write about; for seeking approval from their "heroes" instead of telling it like it is. Yet, when they do, they can attract bitter criticism and, in some cases, reprisals.

Which brings us to Styris' heroics and two questions - did the Black Caps deliberately keep Styris out of the team to stir him up; and is it better to omit someone because of attitudinal and/or team issues, even if he is a better player than those who replace him?

Logic dictates that if Vettori and the other selectors had had enough of Styris, he would not even have been within the squad. As for the second question, the answer is no.

Styris might be difficult but there is no questioning his ability. He is also 34, not 104. Play the best and manage them. After all, isn't that what has been done with Jesse Ryder?

Styris demonstrated again last night he is, indeed, among New Zealand's best and surely that has to be respected with selection.

Perhaps we owe New Zealand Cricket and Vettori a nod of respect for managing Styris in this way; helping him to produce the goods, as it were.

Styris is one of the few who turned their back on test cricket to pursue a future in the shortened, richer forms of the game, Twenty20 uppermost among them. It's not always a good look.

The players involved can look money-hungry and selfishly motivated.

Players who have retired from test cricket but who remain in the international arena include Styris, Oram, Shane Bond and, until recently, Craig McMillan. Of those four, only one (Bond) could really be said to have succeeded since opting out of tests. Styris lost his IPL contract this year and Oram has fallen on hard times, form-wise, with much of New Zealand baying for his head.

Bond himself could be only one breakdown away from finishing for good - although his excellent batting helped pave the way for Styris on Wednesday.

There was a feeling among observers and fans, rightly or wrongly, that Styris was on a bit of a sinecure in cricket; that he wasn't putting as much into his game as he might.

Years ago, when I was writing rugby for the New Zealand Herald alongside the redoubtable DJ Cameron, he was taken to task by a coach angry at some pointed criticism made of his team.

The coach said he'd pinned up Cameron's words in the dressing room and had used it to fire up his charges. They won their next match.

Cameron's response was to the point: "See?" he said. "Worked..."

Whether or not Styris being sent to Siberia was deliberate, it worked well. However, caution has to be used with this tactic. When push comes to shove, the best players should always be selected.

I used to play club cricket with a man who was undeniably talented. A good bowler who could move the ball both ways and an accomplished bat.

He had a rampant ego, a big mouth and an almost entirely disagreeable personality. He was also involved in a sudden death which raised questions but I can say no more than that, thanks to the libel laws.

When he played, we generally won. When he didn't, we generally didn't. The point is that the team harnessed this individual's abilities to its own ends and generally prospered.

No one is saying Styris is like that bloke but it is obvious that he is still in the mix when we are talking about the best cricketers to take on the Aussies.

In that stand-off with Johnson, Styris showed he wasn't prepared to back down and, for that alone, he should continue to be selected.

And to all those commentators - like Bryan Waddle - and apparently some from the New Zealand team who got all moralistic about Johnson's behaviour; calling for his gentle head butt on Styris' helmet to bring sharper punishment: Naaaaah. It was like being kicked by a butterfly.

Cricket fans loved it and they loved Styris for standing up to the Aussies and for providing the perfect riposte - that glorious six to win the game.

- Herald on Sunday

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