Cricket: He came, was poor, he plonkered

By Dylan Cleaver

John Bracewell failed.

There's no point sugar-coating the pill: he was brought in to do a job and, at best, he only did half of it - the easy half.

The one-day side varied between good and very good under his stewardship; the Twenty20 side has struggled; and the test side, the true judge of a coach, has slid embarrassingly and inexorably backwards.

We know this because we can look at the statistics and see, for example, that New Zealand did not win a test away from home against a nation

other than Zimbabwe or Bangladesh, during his reign. We can see that New Zealand won just 13 of 40 tests played under Bracewell - Adelaide not included - and seven of those were against the combined might of
Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

We know this because we saw what happened at Adelaide Oval yesterday, when another woeful batting effort has likely condemned New Zealand to another loss, pushing them to No 8 in the world.

But as he crams his kit into his New Zealand Cricket luggage for the final time this week, the more pertinent question is not whether he failed, but why, and how much of that failure is attributable to himself and the environment he either created, or had to work within?

The New Zealand team he presided over for his last series looked more like an Emerging Players XI than a test side. There are players learning how to bat while playing test cricket.

That this has been allowed to happen is in small part attributable to bad luck and in large part to bad management.

"If you look at the history of the side that has moved on, they were all about the same age, they all grew up together from the age of 16 in Christchurch and they all got to the point they started to have families and looking for easier commercial opportunities than international cricket, which is hard work. It's a lot easier to go to ICL and get the big bucks for six weeks," Bracewell said last week.

Sorry, that is a massive cop out.

The likes of Stephen Fleming, Chris Cairns, Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan, Shane Bond, Lou Vincent, Scott Styris, Hamish Marshall and Andre Adams did not all stop playing because they lost the appetite to play for their country, preferring instead the less wholesome delights of a quick buck.

Some of them probably did, but not all of them.

Some of them were in fact passionately committed to playing for the silver fern, a passion that only began to wane under this regime. Coincidence?

You could argue that the Canterbury clique, in particular, needed a shake-up and some of the literature emanating from Christchurch recently would suggest that one or two players felt they had some sort of divine right to do as they pleased when playing for country.

The treatment of Stephen Fleming, however, was perplexing and probably the biggest stain on the selection panel during his time. When he retired prematurely, he was still the best

batsman in the team and still the best captain in the world, only he wasn't captain.

Bracewell would later state that he would have preferred it if Fleming had remained captain of the test team but he was overruled.

Surely, Bracewell's famed force of personality could have convinced the other selectors of the mistake they were about to make if he really felt that strongly about it.

Bracewell was the most important selector over the past six years and this team is the fruits of six years of labour. He hands over a team lacking in experience, lacking in nous and, in a few cases, lacking in the skills necessary to be successful at the the highest level.

The thing is, this is the sort of team he is most comfortable coaching. You suspect he has always got a hell of a lot more enjoyment out of coaching novices than he has with veterans.

He is a good coach. This team to a man will tell you that. They respect him, they enjoy working with him and most, if not all, think he's a decent bloke. They are quick to defend him, particularly Daniel Vettori and Brendon McCullum, using that oft-uttered phrase that "the coach can't go out and bat and bowl for you".

He could be innovative, even if some of the stodgier members of the old team rejected some of the innovations. The fault is theirs, not Bracewell's.

He is a developer of talent, too. It is his greatest strength and, as coach of an international team, his greatest flaw. Test cricket is not, and should never be treated as, a development league.

In a few years' time, the core of this team might become a very good side and his tenure will be reflected on in kinder terms than it is viewed now. But again, that is missing the point. He is an international coach and his job was to coach teams to win matches and he simply didn't do that enough.

Finally, there seems to be a belief that Bracewell is unfairly criticised because of his relationship with the media. Bunkum.

As far as I can tell, Bracewell doesn't actually have any sort of relationship with the media and that's his prerogative.

In the times that NZC media protocols required him to front the press, he could be baffling and combative and, in the good times, humorous and thoroughly insightful. But while it could make for some colourful copy and compelling sound bites, it does not affect the way the performance of his team is covered.

Over the years there have been a number of prickly coaches in New Zealand sport and all but one of them has been judged on their results rather than by the amount of friends they had in the Fourth Estate.

The one exception was called John.

But it was Mitchell, not Bracewell, who was crucified.

- NZ Herald

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