Andrew Alderson

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

Cricket: Is Taylor's captaincy under threat?

New Zealand cricket coach Mike Hesson, captain Ross Taylor and their team might take a note of the opening lines to Rudyard Kipling's poem If to deal with claims Taylor's captaincy is under threat as they prepare to play Sri Lanka tonight in the Super Eights of the World T20 in Pallekele.

"If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too."

There are suggestions a hesitant line delivered by Hesson in an interview with New Zealand media somehow translated to failing to endorse Taylor as captain, less than a year into his on-field tenure.

Readers can make up their own minds but the transcript went as follows.

Journalist: "Do you think New Zealand is going to go down the path of having more than one captain?"

After a brief laugh, Hesson answered: "Um..."

Journalist: "I mean, New Zealand's never done it at all, we never have."

Hesson: "All I can say is at the moment Ross Taylor is captain of the Black Caps.

"That's a board decision and Ross and I have been working pretty hard together, obviously, for this tournament."

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Deducing this would result in Taylor's imminent dismissal is one take, albeit extreme, from that conversation. Another is that Hesson's response was more a reaction of "why is this question relevant midway through a tournament?" rather than "you've read my mind..."

The accusation cannot have been helpful ahead of a match with the tournament hosts. A win means New Zealand would go a considerable way to firming a place in the semi-finals with a weak England and inconsistent West Indies to come. However, team motivation is not part of a journalist's brief.

The New Zealanders, and especially Taylor, would do well to take Kipling's advice and channel such assessments to their advantage.

The Herald has subsequently contacted three sources who have worked with, or are in regular close contact with the team. Each agreed Taylor had areas to work on as captain, such as how he articulated his messages to media and players as well as making fielding decisions under pressure. None suggested his spot was under immediate threat.

They also said Taylor was one of the most honest, humble individuals they had met in the sport and could be an outstanding captain long term, provided he addressed his issues.

Patience is required in this regard. Taylor has proven himself the most consistent batsman in the team and one of the most reliable slip fielders in the country's history - at one stage last summer he averaged a non-wicket-keeper world record of one catch per innings in tests. However, catching has let him down on occasion in the last few months, notably on the third ball of the Pakistan innings the other night when Mohammad Hafeez went on to make 43.

Since first taking the field as the official captain in October, Taylor's batting record has improved in all formats. In 11 tests he's averaged 47.29 compared to 41.12. He gets past 50 runs 30 per cent of the time just like he did without reins. In four one-day internationals - albeit against Zimbabwe and West Indies - he's averaged 67.50 compared to 35.79. In six T20 internationals as skipper his average has spiked to 41.50 with a strike rate of 143 compared to 21.96 with a strike rate of 117.

Meanwhile, those who have known Hesson since his years coaching Otago are familiar with his astute thinking, meticulous planning and candid talking on the game. If Taylor's spot was under threat it's hard to imagine Hesson dumping the decision on him (via the board) without working towards a more constructive solution first. He has only been in the job two months and there was a thorough interview process to appoint Taylor in June 2011.

Taylor earned the job, despite Brendon McCullum always rating highly in player leadership recommendations as part of the annual review process. They are understood to glow about his influence within the team. To McCullum's credit he has never publicly offered sulkiness or despondence about his failure to secure such a coveted post.

Arguably Hesson tended to unlock the best in McCullum as his coach with Otago and the same might be happening now given the wicket-keeper batsman's run of T20 international form with scores of 91, 123 and 32). However, Hesson is not a character swayed by parochial affiliation. One source said if he decided to make a captaincy change months or years from now, it would be based on logic and analysis with an open, honest process rather than being carried out behind closed doors.

As an alternative, a former New Zealand captain suggested senior players in the side needed to ensure they committed to Taylor to support him through a tough grooming period. He said if players remained intimidating or fixed in their ways it would put any fledgling captain in a "terrible position" because "it takes you years to develop those skills, it's not something you just jump in and do".

At 28, Taylor is not alone as a relatively young captain trying to master his trade. Before becoming arguably the country's best cricket skipper, Stephen Fleming struggled as a newly-appointed 23-year-old. Likewise, Richie McCaw first became All Blacks skipper aged 23 in 2004 before taking the job permanently aged 25. He even survived his team being ousted from a World Cup in the quarter-finals before rising to national hero when the Webb Ellis Cup returned last year.

Certainly the New Zealand cricket team's run of late has been poor. No one is suggesting it's time to bring out the pom-poms and thundersticks but these results are not unique to Taylor's captaincy. Apart from a first-time World Cup semi-final spot on the sub-continent last year and a first test victory over Australia in more than 18 years, the years since Fleming left the post have been bleak.

Andrew Alderson flew to the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka courtesy of Emirates Airline (www.emirates.com/nz).

- Herald on Sunday

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