Andrew Alderson

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

Cricket: Hesson deserves some credit for NZ's on-field progress

New Zealand coach Mike Hesson has been under siege since he was appointed but the side is now making headway. Photo / Getty Images
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson has been under siege since he was appointed but the side is now making headway. Photo / Getty Images

Will the brickbats ever turn into bouquets for New Zealand cricket coach Mike Hesson?

He surely deserves some accolades as evidence filters through that the national side is making progress.

Last week marked 18 months since Hesson was named head coach. He has persevered in the role dis-passionately, stating his case without seeking vengeance for the public trial he endured at the end of 2012.

In some enclaves he will never be forgiven, but it's hard to argue with the personnel he has helped nurture since taking over from John Wright.

Hesson started with test defeats in India and a drawn test series and one-day trouncing by Sri Lanka. Then came test hidings from world No1 South Africa followed by a courageous ODI series victory. Longer-form improvements came in the drawn home series against England, tempered by batting collapses away at Lord's and Headingley.

Another ODI series victory came in England but was followed by a rain-affected Champions Trophy where they missed the semi-finals.

A lost ODI series in Bangladesh and drawn tests failed to inspire, nor did the rain-affected limited overs' series in Sri Lanka, yet the team entered this year upbeat after conquering the West Indies 2-0 across three tests.

His tenure has contained undulations, some of which could continue during this Indian series, but surely Hesson deserves credit, particularly in limited overs formats, for endorsing players such as Mitchell McClenaghan, Corey Anderson, Jimmy Neesham, Luke Ronchi, Adam Milne and, in tests, Ish Sodhi.

Some of what he has imparted as coach is intangible. The key theme is building players capable of independent thought; instilling a sleeper cell of belief which could awaken when it matters to pull off victories like the examples in Napier and Hamilton which built a 2-0 series lead in the five-match series against world champions India. By investing autonomy in his charges, Hesson hopes to ignite World Cup match-winners.

"They're not robots; they can't be spoon-fed," Hesson says. "We need players to make decisions for themselves. A lot of the time I say very little in the team environment. I sit back and allow it to unfold because we have people, including former internationals like Shane [Bond], to provide advice within the support structure."

Last week, former New Zealand all-rounder Chris Cairns wrote a column which suggested "quite often when he [Hesson] speaks publicly I struggle to find the logic" in relation to resting Milne and Anderson rather than having them earn the right to make the team. He concluded by saying "while I believe we have a tremendous pool of cricketing talent in this country, the administrators and coaches are not of the same standard and, if not monitored, will become an anchor to weigh down this potential."

Hesson acknowledges he will never please everyone, something he's attributed to not playing first-class cricket. Many refuse to see him as anything other than out of his depth, making the leap from Otago and Kenya to coaching a test side.

"The longer I'm in the role I've realised no matter what you do there will be a peripheral element who will never be happy with the status quo. However, my job can't be dictated by what those in the media think.

"Adam and Corey are calm characters. They are young but well-grounded. The hype can affect anyone from time to time but they're good team players who will get through."

The main platform to Hesson's coaching style is planning.

"I like to break the team into groups to discuss the upcoming opposition and plan for each game. Everyone has an input and we sign off on it. One example is bowling shorter to India at Napier on a faster wicket but pitching up to make the most of the slower Hamilton track.

"As a coaching staff you're always trying to find opposition weaknesses. With batsmen like [Virat] Kohli and [Mahendra Singh] Dhoni it's hard because they score all around the park, play high percentage shots and gap the ball well. I must admit it took my heart rate down a few beats the other night when Kane [Williamson] and Anton [Devcich] held those catches."

On the batting front Hesson is content with the successful formula of being three wickets down at 35 overs but says it is a flexible premise.

"You still can't afford to waste those 35 overs. Guppy [Martin Guptill] and Jesse [Ryder] are also terrific ball strikers so you want to see them play with freedom. We've seen the experience Ross [Taylor] and Kane offer later, manoeuvring the ball into gaps.

"The batting game has changed a lot too in the first and last 10 overs. Using a different ball from each end means it stays harder so you get more movement early but the added hardness helps with shots later [when there are five players in the circle as opposed to four under the current laws]. Teams should be capable of scoring more runs."

Hesson won't be drawn on what constitutes a successful series against India.

"The pleasing thing in those first two wins was the calm way the guys went about it."

Highs
2-0 test series victory over the West Indies, the first win in a three-test series for eight seasons - December 2013.
ODI series wins away in South Africa and England despite heavy test series defeats.
Development of Mitchell McClenaghan, Corey Anderson, Jimmy Neesham, Luke Ronchi, Adam Milne and Ish Sodhi.

Lows
The Ross Taylor captaincy demotion saga - December 2012-January 2013.
New Zealand dismissed for 45 in first test against South Africa at Newlands - January 2, 2013.
New Zealand dismissed for 68 in first test against England at Lord's - May 19, 2013

- NZ Herald

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