Cricket: Spin still the key weakness

By Andrew Alderson

As political struggles dominate national cricket, the real battle remains on the pitch, writes Andrew Alderson.

Matthew Hayden's work in India in 2001 paid dividends when Australia's test series began. Photo / Getty Images
Matthew Hayden's work in India in 2001 paid dividends when Australia's test series began. Photo / Getty Images

Learning how to play spin on the subcontinent might be relegated as a New Zealand Cricket priority this week but it can't be kept off the agenda long if the national side is to raise itself in the international rankings.

A fortnight ago, the Herald on Sunday suggested promising players consider cricket OEs to the subcontinent rather than the tradition of England. The story was based on the premise New Zealand batsmen must find a solution to play spin after their collapse in the first test against Sri Lanka.

Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson and Daniel Flynn applied themselves in the second test victory at Colombo but a culture needs to be established so future players are well-equipped to deal with tweak.

Australian Matthew Hayden is one of the best modern examples. He prepared against spin for a month in India ahead of the legendary 2001 test series which the hosts came back to win 2-1. Hayden's series average of 109.80 was more than twice the next best (Steve Waugh's 48.60) in the team.

NZC could establish links through former national players and coaches David Trist and John Wright, who forged solid subcontinent contacts. The NZC could open their coffers and invest in scholarships so players can immerse themselves in the culture.

Alex Reese is a cricketer who has extended the concept beyond lip service. The 21-year-old toured India and the Emirates four years ago as part of North Canterbury's Willows Cricket Club. He returned to train, coach and play with the Global Cricket School in Mumbai for three months in 2010. The GCS was also home to New Zealand cricketer Dean Brownlie when he practised there in October. Reese spent a month in Pune helping Ireland and Netherlands prepare for the 2011 World Cup and assisting at academies in Mumbai.

"The thing that is frustrating about New Zealand Cricket is how reactive they are to this issue," Reese says. "This year, it took tours to the West Indies, India and Sri Lanka to work out they need to play spin better.

"A trip up to India could transform a batsman's ability against spin 10-fold. I was taught various techniques, like practising against spin without pads. They all help.

"Obviously NZC's got to do something and they should be willing to pay for it. After you've paid for the flights, I reckon players could get by, everything included, on less than $100 a day for 10 days. That figure would drop the longer they stayed. I know people from the GCS who can organise games in an Indian environment. You're forced to learn a bit of the language and, when you go out to bat, you might face six overs of pace at the start of an innings, then it's all spin."

Reese is a former Canterbury age group cricketer who holds long-term coaching ambitions. He marvelled at the work ethic displayed in India.

"It's second to none. The game is treated with so much respect and passion. In New Zealand, we turn up to training twice a week and say we're 'well prepared'. Indian cricketers practise relentlessly, before work and after work, finding a way to work on their game.

"Contracted players in Canterbury might spend a couple of hours in the nets and at the gym, then it's off to the golf course and the X-box. I remember the [Indian] players were told one morning [at the academy] they had the day off but, instead of putting their feet up, a number went off by train at 5.30am to a training field for a two-and-a-half hour session.

"Forget about five-star accommodation, forget about air-conditioned buses. India's a country where you naturally come out a tougher person."

Reese also spent time with Mumbai cricket identity Makarand Waingankar, who has worked closely with Sachin Tendulkar. Waingankar said that despite 23 years of international cricket, Tendulkar still trains eight hours a day when he's not on tour; two hours on fitness and up to six on skills.

Reese compiled an insightful video documentary on his website alexreesecricket.com and self-published a book (sold privately) of his experiences. He is aiming to set up cricket education centres for slum children. He is working on securing the finance to set up his first in Chennai by October.

- Herald on Sunday

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