Cricket: NZ religion needs a new testament

By Anendra Singh

The answers to the Black Caps' woes have never been so simple.

It primarily goes back to what happens in our parks every summer with religious monotony.

The strapping youngster, showing all the promise of further growth spurts, picks up the short-pitched delivery and deposits it to cow corner.

The crowd goes wild.

Misguided parents, coaches and scorers engage in witty repartee.

Much later, another kid comes on to wield the willow with the determination of occupying the Gaza Strip before running between the wickets with some deft calls.

The crowd yawns. Some pull out a newspaper and others turn their backs to talk about the coffee and croissants at a Sunday flea market.

I once recall a tiny terror who went into an age-group Super League match at No 9, worked the ball around to victory after a colossal top-order collapse at a Napier park.

As parents congratulated the beaming bolter walking off the field, the "coach" begrudgingly quipped: "Well done but you just got lucky."

It's bad enough getting rid of false prophets who are forever trying to justify their line-ups.

It seems the cricketing religion needs a new testament, especially amid overwhelming evidence under-pressure coaches tend to select bashers at the expense of grafters.

Believe it or not, therein lies the future Black Caps' problems.

A strapping Martin Guptill looked like a world beater this summer, albeit smashing first-class opposition bowlers and Zimbabwe on the way to emphatic victories in predominantly limited-overs matches.

World No 2 South Africa, who could easily be World No 1 if it hadn't rained in Dunedin, have asked the Auckland Aces opening batsman some technical questions. Guptill needs to say nothing because his anaemic statistics against the tourists speaks volumes.

Sure, Brendon McCullum hails from the land of Hobbits but have you noticed those bulging biceps?

If you are vertically challenged then, it seems, you must beef up to show you have the back bone to measure up against the Zulu-like Protea seamers in a bid to heave the ball over their heads.

What rubbish.

Kane Williamson, Kruger van Wyk, Mathew Sinclair, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara, to name a few, go to show big isn't necessarily good.

It's not brute force that will persistently get you to the boundary although physical attributes can give you an edge.

"It's technique and timing, not the size of the bat," batmaker John Laver once told children during a visit to his Otane factory.

A knee-jerk reaction in calling up Jesse Ryder for a smash-and-grab stint to reverse New Zealand's fortunes is nothing but a quick-fix measure.

The historic Hobart victory is also fast becoming a parable. Yes, it had its psychological uses and offers a glimpse of what we can achieve but it's time to embrace reality.

Spending more time in the nets is a futile exercise simply because the test wickets out there are no different in temperament.

The challenge, again, is in preparing wickets in the country that offer a bit of purchase to both batsmen and bowlers.

It's the quick singles, punctuated by the odd boundary an over or two, that build useful innings.

Scrutinise McCullum and skipper Ross Taylor's recent knocks and you'll find they are mentally struggling to differentiate between limited-overs and test cricket as they fail to kick on after making their fifties.

Keeping the ball on the ground must be the mantra in test cricket. Playing T20 and one-dayers before tests is a no-no.

As former Central Districts coach Dermot Reeve used to drum into his Stags, "every ball is an event".

Leaving the ball is sometimes more important than playing a shot but, of course, having the presence of mind to move one's feet is equally significant.

Detractors go on about "the mental thing" but, in reality, majority of our batsmen are simply creatures of habit - victims of a custom instilled from day dot.

That behaviour is prevalent also in the White Ferns, first-class cricketers and even the senior representative level.

Bowlers are no exceptions, either.

You religiously bowl a dot ball, not a wicket one. If you claim a wicket in the process then it's a bonus.

That's where the discipline of line and length sets in.

Seamer Mark Gillespie has returned from four summers in the wilderness to show you can teach an old dog a few tricks, provided they are willing to roll over and let someone tickle their stomach.

Chopping and changing line ups aren't going to solve any problems.

It makes as much sense as trying to apportion blame on the tail order when the top-six simply aren't earning their money.

Talking of money, someone cheekily suggested after the Napier ODI last month the Black Caps should be paid on performance - no runs or wickets, no dosh.

It does make sense and could provide the seriousness required on the crease before playing an injudicious shot.

However, it's vital to accept you are not in the elite class and make drastic changes at grassroots level to ensure a decade from now we'll have more savvy cricketers.

In the interim, persevere with the incumbents and push them into the Australian domestic and English County equation.

Send the spinners to the subcontinent to polish their trade.

Making T20 New Zealand Cricket's priority as a global statement is at best myopic and, inarguably, detrimental to this country's No 1 summer sport.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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