Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Fatal flaws in NZC logic

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Guptill was recently named the country's outstanding cricketer of 2011-12. Photo / Getty
Guptill was recently named the country's outstanding cricketer of 2011-12. Photo / Getty

There's something a bit screwy about the Black Caps' tour of Sri Lanka - something which calls to mind Mr Phillip Contos of New York.

He was the bloke who rode his Harley Davidson in a protest against compulsory helmet laws last year. He did so with a bare head. But his Harley fishtailed, crashed and Contos was thrown over the handlebars.

He cracked his head and was rushed to hospital, where he died. Police later said he would have survived had he been wearing a safety-approved motorcycle helmet - the exact thing against which he was protesting.

If, once you have got past the almost unbelievable idiocy of the above story, you are wondering what this has to do with cricket and the Black Caps, it's this: just as Contos left his helmet at home, so the Blacks Caps have left something behind. What was it? Oh yes, just two of their best players ...

Opening batsman Martin Guptill and quick bowler Doug Bracewell have been excused the limited overs portions of the tour of Sri Lanka.

Guptill is under orders to "freshen up"; Bracewell is working on matters of technique.

This makes about as much sense as a marshmallow dildo.

The Black Caps, by any measure, have been on a steady decline in recent times and are enduring an era when they are - or should be - fighting for the hearts and minds of fans, sponsors, media and ensuring that their sport continues to occupy what has been a significant place in the New Zealand sporting environment.

Make no mistake, cricket in this country is fighting for its life. By any measure, fans and other observers have been losing interest as the national team wanders off to its next assignment.

As results worsen, so enthusiasm wanes and the Black Caps become less relevant. Issues at play include player power, the negative effect of Twenty20 cricket, the Australianisation of New Zealand cricket, including the hiring of former Australian coach John Buchanan (the manner of whose appointment helped drive former coach John Wright out the door), an unsettling and unnecessary focus on the captaincy skills of our best batsman, Ross Taylor, and poor results.

These are big nasties. Good results are required. There were pleasing signs of revival in the last World T20 tournament, only for the Black Caps to fail in two key, nail-biting, extra-time finishes - reprising their usual habit of building up our hopes at high speed, only to fling them over the handlebars yet again.

They have a new coach, Mike Hesson. Everyone wants him to succeed. This column wants him to succeed. But it's hard to see how this can happen if two of his key weapons are not in Sri Lanka.


Guptill was recently named the country's outstanding cricketer of 2011-12. He earned the Hadlee Medal after he won the Redpath Cup for first-class batting and was named New Zealand's Twenty20 and ODI player of the year. He began the season with 109 in a test against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo and passed 50 in five consecutive one-day internationals. In home T20s against Zimbabwe and South Africa, Guptill produced scores of 91 not out, 78 not out, 47 and 26. After a run of outs, he made 97 in the test against the West Indies in Antigua.

Not bad - so let's leave him at home. Hesson said there was a busy six months coming up and a "weary" Guptill was said to support the decision to leave him at home. Hmmm.

Maybe the answer was to pull Guptill out of the Auckland Aces' recent Twenty20 Champions League jaunt in South Africa and keep him fresh for national duties.

And, please, is he a professional sportsman - fit, trained physically and mentally and well recompensed for the labours of his craft or not?

The last time NZC pulled this stunt was ahead of the tour of the West Indies when they rested Brendon McCullum. The results: 2-0 down in the tests, 4-1 down in the one-dayers and 2-0 down in the T20s. Worked a treat, huh?

If the All Blacks - by any measure one of the world's most successful sporting teams - rotate, they still come under some fire for doing so by people who believe that the team is best served by playing the best. This includes current and former All Blacks.

But if you are doing - please excuse me, NZC - crap, then surely you need to arm yourselves with the best. Not give them a cup of tea and a wee lie-down. Daniel Vettori is also not in Sri Lanka, courtesy of an Achilles injury - so that means three of the best players in the land are not available for a great slice of the Sri Lankan tour.


Bracewell's absence is also puzzling. After just 11 test matches, he has 40 wickets. The fastest New Zealand bowlers to take 50 test wickets are Shane Bond (12 tests), Chris Martin (13), Frank Cameron, Hedley Howarth, Sir Richard Hadlee and Vettori (all 14 tests). So Bracewell is keeping some pretty smart company.

You worry about what the coaches are doing regarding Bracewell's "technique". He won cricket's Winsor Cup for first-class bowling after last season. He was named test player of the year, taking 37 wickets at an average of 24, including that heroic nine for 60 in the rare win against Australia.

If he has a fault, it is that he can be a tad expensive - but he is a wicket-taker; a bowler who produces deliveries that get people out; you fiddle with that at your peril.

We don't know what Bracewell's technical flaws are, though they are almost certainly to do with his limited overs bowling and high economy rates - but surely the best medicine is game time to apply what is learned in the nets.

You also worry about what often happens when golfers decide to change their swing to rid themselves of minor imperfections. So many take ages to regain their former proficiency after a swing change. Reference: Tiger Woods (although there are clearly other issues there as well).

There will be some in NZC who feel that they can't win; columns like this one have banged on in the past about how test cricket needs emphasis instead of the encroaching evil of T20; Guptill and Bracewell are being held back to help achieve that; there may also be player power issues.

Fair enough - but the Black Caps are playing for more than just results now; the very health of their sport is at stake. Going on tours like this with the cricketing equivalent of not wearing Mr Contos' helmet seems about as daft and unnecessary as his death.

- Herald on Sunday

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