David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: International test selection underlines state of NZ game

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It's a far cry from the days when Dan Vettori and Stephen Fleming were serious contenders in any arbitrarily selected world combinations. Photo / NZPA
It's a far cry from the days when Dan Vettori and Stephen Fleming were serious contenders in any arbitrarily selected world combinations. Photo / NZPA

Here's a surprise: no New Zealand player made it into the International Cricket Council's test team of the year, or made the shortlist of nominations for the major awards yesterday.

Six teams were represented in its XI - there were four South Africans, three Englishmen, as you might expect - a Pakistani, a Sri Lankan and a West Indian and all to be captained by an Australian, Michael Clarke.

So New Zealand, India and lightweights Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, were the only test teams not represented.

It says something for the state of New Zealand's five-day game that this should be greeted with an underwhelming, "who'd have thought it".

It's a far cry from the days when the likes of Dan Vettori, Stephen Fleming and Shane Bond were, if not chosen, then certainly serious contenders in any arbitrarily selected world combinations.

But the parlous state of New Zealand's test game prompts the thought: from where will New Zealand's next test win come?

There are no matches against Zimbabwe or Bangladesh scheduled before October next year, when New Zealand visit Bangladesh - which will be no pushover - so soft touches are off the radar.

Before then, there are two tests in Sri Lanka, two in South Africa, three at home to England and two away to the same country.

It's a depressing thought that by the time New Zealand finish in England, we might still be stuck on the current 71 wins out of 385 tests.

And there's a significant underlying issue which should be troubling New Zealand Cricket.

The remarkable test win over Australia in Hobart late last year was achieved in unusual circumstances, New Zealand narrowly getting the better of their hosts on a billiard-table green strip.

It was a hugely entertaining test and prompted the thought at the time that more pitches should enable seamers to enjoy themselves.

Since then, a big win over Zimbabwe in Napier aside, it's been a depressing few months.

Losing the test series to South Africa was no surprise; losing eight out of nine international matches in the West Indies, even on the back of no preparation, was; and getting dusted in Hyderabad last week simply added to a bleak picture.

If this carries on much longer - and looking at that list of upcoming assignments, it's entirely possible given the current state of things - test cricket in New Zealand runs the real risk of losing relevance.

You can argue there's a difference between the hardcore cricket watchers and the fairweather mob. The faithful could have their patience sorely tested, but will hold the line.

You hear it in the quips at New Zealand's expense, the "sack the lot" talkback calls and while much can be written off as idiot-speak, there is a residual issue: people will stop caring. New Zealand were done again in four days? Big deal.

That's why the next 10 months are so critical for New Zealand.

They rank eighth of nine in the test game (Zimbabwe don't have a test ranking yet). They need to rattle bigger cages. The bright side of that is they won't lack for opportunity in the coming months.

- NZ Herald

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