Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: NZC runs itself out, again

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Ross Taylor. Photo / Sanka Vidanagama/Photosport
Ross Taylor. Photo / Sanka Vidanagama/Photosport

For the scarcely believable saga of idiocy known as the demise of Ross Taylor as Black Caps captain, let us reach back to the past and to the continent of Africa for a story which illustrates the ability of cricket in this country to jam a foot in the mouth and then start chewing.

The tale came from Garth Gibbs, the South-African born scribe who graced the Daily Mirror in the old days of Fleet Street, before Lord Leveson was forced to turn up and tell them all how to behave. Gibbs was most well known for his pursuit of Lord Lucan, the 40-year-old aristocrat who, in 1974, bludgeoned his children's nanny to death, attacked his wife and then fled, never to be seen again. The hunt for Lord Lucan transfixed police, public and media - who spent countless vaults of money attempting to find him for years.

Gibbs (who died last year, aged 75) once said: "I regard not finding Lord Lucan as my most spectacular success in journalism," he said.

"Of course, many of my colleagues have also been fairly successful in not finding Lord Lucan.

But I have successfully not found him in more exotic spots than anybody else.

"I spent three glorious weeks not finding him in Cape Town, magical days and nights not finding him in the Black Mountains of Wales, and wonderful and successful short breaks not finding him in Macau either, or in Hong Kong or even in Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas where you can find anyone."

But it was his story about a rogue elephant in a national park in South Africa that best fits the Black Caps. Most elephant herds are led by a matriarch but this particular leader was a bull. Rangers realised a young female in the herd was poorly and decided to investigate. The bull - who had developed a hatred of humans after a bullet had put a hole in his ear - was fussing about her.

The rangers flew over the herd in a helicopter and fired a tranquilliser dart to enable her to be examined. But, as she wobbled and was ready to fall, the bull misunderstood. He thought she was either about to die or to fall into the hands of the hated humans.

So he mercy killed her. Two other elephants held her flanks while he rammed one of his giant tusks through her eye, into the brain, killing her instantly. He and the herd aggressively stood guard over the fallen female for a long time.

Afterwards the elephants, with the bull in the lead, returned every sunrise to the spot - mourning before throwing their heads back and trumpeting. Then they would move back into the bush.


For the stricken cow, read Taylor, if he'll forgive me for comparing him to a female elephant. For the misguidedly protective bull, read the Black Caps or New Zealand Cricket - whichever suits your prejudice in this nasty mess of a coup which reflects poorly on absolutely everybody involved.

Ross Taylor is New Zealand's premier batsman. The biggest problem in the Black Caps - everyone agrees - is not captaincy, it's the batting. Taylor is essential to the Black Caps. So what are we doing? Undermining his captaincy, his place in the team and stretching to breaking point the delicate fabric that is the psyche of a top batsman in a sport renowned as a "head" game.

What a mess. What a joke. The inability of this team to guts it out and consistently show some of the spine for which New Zealand cricket has previously been known has been a bigger issue than the captaincy. Even if the powers-that-be felt that Taylor wasn't a good captain, surely the answer was to work with him and improve his leadership skills - not undermine him with a long-running question mark, failing to endorse him, hiding in the shadows of team brotherhood while allowing acid waves of doubt to lap away at the ankles of Taylor's leadership.

If they felt Taylor had to go because, for example, his players did not support him - why not do one of two things: work out an agreement with him and make the change at season's end? If there was urgency involved, do it between series, not in the middle of one where Taylor has been performing heroics with the bat.

Instead there has been long-term whispering; a creeping death scenario which leaked into the public domain and afforded little dignity to New Zealand's best batsman. Coach Mike Hesson, chief executive David White and the board have responsibility for this.

So do the Black Caps themselves. For whatever reason (Taylor was too laid back for some in the team; not inspirational enough, so go the whispers carrying on the wind) they have not backed their captain either. We might have to wait for someone's book to find out the politics involved - but the players will not come out of this well.

Rightly or wrongly, the players are perceived to be the tail wagging the dog; they are popularly supposed to treasure the riches of the IPL more than playing for their country; they are seen as complacent (or worse) because their power is perceived as a negative by many fans; lack of depth means they continue on their merry way even though results are poor.


Getting round those perceptions will take a lot - a lot of winning. The Black Caps, by ditching Taylor, are ironically increasing the pressure on themselves.

The only justification for such cavalier treatment of a colleague is that the team's fortunes improve. Hands up, those who think the Black Caps will win more, on current form. Hardly a forest, is it?

There is further irony in the fact that their success will be inextricably linked with the man who has suffered greatest hurt. Taylor will have to show some real character to succeed if he ever returns to a team and a national sporting body that has spurned his leadership.

Great plan, guys. The elephant in the room is player power and whether it is benefitting the game, or just the Black Caps. If they don't succeed after toppling Taylor, it will be yet another shuffling of the deck chairs on the sinking ship of New Zealand cricket - a game whose following is in danger of disappearing. Like Lord Lucan.

- Herald on Sunday

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