Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: Northern Districts on money for title

Joe Yovich. Photo / Getty Images
Joe Yovich. Photo / Getty Images

Northern districts coach Grant Bradburn has cited a core of senior players, earning the right to play shots and an appreciation of Moneyball selection principles as reasons his team won the Plunket Shield for the second time in three years.

It is an approach that could also be useful for New Zealand coach John Wright and selection manager Kim Littlejohn to consider when picking touring teams later this year.

Bradburn places a lot of emphasis on senior players such as his top order of captain Brad Wilson, Joseph Yovich, Hamish and James Marshall and bowlers Graeme Aldridge and Brent Arnel to lead the team. Of those six, only Arnel (v South Africa) and Aldridge (v Zimbabwe) were picked for international duty this season.

The batting averages of the others - Wilson 32.35, Yovich 33.19, James Marshall 31.53 and Hamish Marshall 44.18 - were consistent enough for ND to seize a championship despite losing their final match against Central Districts in Napier.

However, Bradburn has been forced to juggle the team selection with eight players invited to turn out for New Zealand during the season - and they suffered a loss of key personnel during the final match. Hamish Marshall returned to Gloucestershire and Daniel Flynn was picked for the final test against South Africa after averaging 83.42 in five matches.

Bradburn has stressed the value of batting time, something the New Zealand cricketers could observe more after losing to South Africa inside three days in Hamilton and recovering from 83 for five in the final match, courtesy of a disciplined second innings ton from Northern Districts batsman Kane Williamson.

"Our overall aim was always to earn the right to win on the final day," said Bradburn. "You can't win a match on the first day: that's where you put in place the building blocks.

"Then you look at holding the momentum - the game is full of swings back and forth in that department - and staying patient. You'll make a few errors but the Plunket Shield points system rewards wins rather than draws or losses.

"For instance, with the bat, it's hard to play expansive shots from the start. You've got to earn the right to play those by spending time at the crease, at least in cricket's longer forms."

Bradburn has seen value in an objective Moneyball-type selection policy. The movie Moneyball relates to a Michael Lewis book where the Oakland Athletics baseball team and their general manager Billy Beane focused on an analytical, evidence-based approach to assembling a competitive team with limited funds.

In cricket, a coach might rely on variables such as strike rates, fitness test results and wagon wheel analysis in combination with traditional measures like averages and intuition.

It is something Littlejohn has been pushing as part of his "selection pie" policy, despite it drawing some derisive comments, usually with reference to his past role as high performance manager at Bowls Australia.

"I can relate to the Moneyball concept," Bradburn says.

"It is a transparent, consistent selection philosophy based on skill sets. Elements like that are an important part of our four-day success.

"The skipper must always have options at his disposal be they swing, seam or spin with the ball or strokemakers and defensive walls with the bat. You don't want to overload any aspect of the [Plunket Shield] team."

Meanwhile, Tim Southee was rested from Northern Districts final match. He had scans on a sore shin after the match against Auckland where he took one wicket for 39 runs from 14.1 overs.

"He faces six to eight weeks rest," Bradburn said.

"He'll take some time off at home and collate all the advice he's sought recently to work on a few areas. He has a firm knowledge and understanding of where he needs to get to. I was comfortable with the way the ball was coming out of his hand against Auckland."

Southee will get a clean break ahead of the West Indies tour starting in late June. He has not received a call-up to the Stephen Fleming-coached Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League like last year.

- Herald on Sunday

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