The Shame Game: A taste of history may be in order

By Dylan Cleaver, David Leggat, Andrew Alderson

Self-reflection has proven a success before - perhaps it's time for the current crop to open up.

A big part of the revival of New Zealand's cricket fortunes under Stephen Fleming can be traced back to a restaurant in Birmingham.

It was 1999. New Zealand had just lost a test they should have won after nightwatchman Alex Tudor smote an unbeaten 99 to lead an underwhelming England team to a seven-wicket win and a 1-0 series lead.

There was an edge to the conversation around the table that night, which quickly turned into a truth and reconciliation session of sorts.

"Myself, Dion Nash, Roger Twose, Simon Doull and Adam Parore had a very frank conversation about our contribution and our roles within the team," recalled Chris Cairns, a prodigiously talented all-rounder who was in danger of not fulfilling his talent.

Henry Kissinger would have had difficulty promoting diplomacy in a crowd that included the spiky Nash and Parore, never backward with an opinion, solicited or not.

The thing was, it worked. New Zealand never looked back, winning the test series 2-1 following victories at the London cathedrals, Lord's and The Oval. For a period that extended into the early 2000s, they were a match for any team.

"We questioned each other hard and some of it was quite revealing," Cairns said. "Teams are a funny thing, as I don't believe you have to necessarily like someone, but you must respect them. As Nashy said: 'Respect is not something you earn and keep, it's something you keep earning.' It's a quote I found very poignant."

Cairns, who played 62 tests and 215 ODIs, saw similarities with that period and the early to mid-1980s, when his father Lance became one of the game's great folk heroes.

"Consistent contributions from senior players," said Cairns on the formula for success.

"The question is, how was that achieved? I firmly believe this is done by the individuals within the team challenging each other to be the best they can."

Cairns pointed to a strong period of leadership within New Zealand Cricket as pivotal in preparing the groundwork for success. From board chairman Sir John Anderson to chief executive Chris Doig, manager DJ Graham and coach Steve Rixon, it was a well-qualified off-field team. On the field, Stephen Fleming was blossoming into a superb strategist.

"We were blessed with quality individuals. Is this the current situation with all departments?"

It might as well be a rhetorical question.


By now, Blind Freddie could have established that New Zealand cricket is not working and New Zealand Cricket has failed on multiple fronts, particularly on the high performance side of the operation.

There has been a revolving door of personnel, scheduling that has made decent preparation impossible and facilities that make NZC look third-world in comparison to countries that are, well, third world.

But at what point does the onus fall on players to stop worrying about what they haven't got and develop the wherewithal to get better with what they do have? To do what Cairns et al did over a korma and look each other in the eye and say, 'you're not aiming up and it's hurting the team'?

It's a point emphasised by former New Zealand coach Warren Lees. He calls it self-reliance, a stunningly simple concept that has got lost among players accustomed to having everything laid on.

"As soon as you give people excuses, self-reliance goes out the window. They don't think for themselves," Lees said.

He cited the examples of Martin Crowe, Andrew Jones and Ken Rutherford. Early in their careers, they all had their issues against offspinners but each worked out completely different methods and became fine players of spin.

"They didn't get told. They had the basic technique they had when 17 or 18 and made their own variations, which suited the game they played. These [current] guys all play the same way."

Players might train longer, score better on skin-fold tests (with a couple of notable exceptions) and hit and throw the ball further but they would almost certainly score lower in terms of resourcefulness.

Until New Zealand starts winning, the public perception will remain, as articulated by founder member Nash this week, that the Players' Association work only in the interest of the players without thought for the greater good.

"No fan who wants to teach their son how to play sport the right way is really engaged with a playboy millionaire attitude. I'm not saying we've got playboy millionaires but that's the attitude that comes through sometimes. I hear some of them in commentary and media and it's almost like they're in denial about their performances.

"We understand you can't win every game but at least talk to us like we're not idiots."

Until a sense returns that the modern player will die for the national cause before they begin to think about self-interest and lining their pockets with IPL rupees, then epithets like Player Power will remain.

"There is no quick fix to any situation but I believe New Zealand has the players to perform. There must also be an acknowledgement from within the organisation to have the best people involved and to use all resources available to it," Cairns said. "Culture is key and strong leadership paramount."

After New Zealand Cricket's week from hell, when there was a vacuum of anything resembling leadership, these words carry extra emphasis.

- Herald on Sunday

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