Dylan Cleaver on sport
Sport analysis and comment from Dylan Cleaver

Midweek Fixture: Put Mike Hesson on a plane home

By Dylan Cleaver

Black Caps' coach needs meeting with the headmaster to stop the rot.

New Zealand cricket coach Mike Hesson should be on the next flight back to New Zealand.

He should be given a day or two to reacquaint himself with his family and prepare for a two-day meeting at New Zealand Cricket's Grafton HQ, where he will outline how the team fell into such a five-day funk and how he plans to pull them out of it.

This is not an occasion where it can wait until the end of the tour. This needs to be addressed while the wound of abject failure remains raw. New Zealand lost last night in Indore, on the most manageable surface of the tour, by 321 runs. In itself that sounds terrible, but it can also be represented another way. India finished on 773 for 8, New Zealand scored 452 for 20.

Extrapolate for the three tests and the score is India 2047 for 43, New Zealand 1351 for 60. Not one New Zealander aggregated in three tests what India captain Virat Kohli scored in one innings. Not one New Zealander took as many wickets in three tests as Ravi Ashwin took in Indore.

The Cricket World Cup is not until 2019. The team can live without Hesson and under the capable stewardship of Mike Sandle in India for a week or so. In the greater scheme of things a bilateral one-day series means diddly squat compared to the implosion of the test team that threatens to derail an enticing home summer of five-dayers against an excellent Pakistan side, an improving Bangladesh outfit and a South African unit looking to put some difficult days in the rearview mirror.

What we have seen in India, and South Africa before that, and Christchurch and Wellington before that, is bordering on unacceptable. There's an old sporting cliché that you don't become a bad team overnight but the Black Caps have created their own truism: you can go from good to very bad in a year.

With the retirement of Lindsay Crocker as general manager cricket, there is no buffer between Hesson and the chief executive. He reports directly to David White who, as a former New Zealand player, has a high-performance background.

White has to be distressed at what he has seen over the past year: the performance of the flagship team, as he discovered in the good old days when they rock 'n' rolled their way to the World Cup final, is inextricably linked to the commercial and marketing sides of the business. It's not just Hesson's KPIs that are affected by the sort of danse macabre we saw on the fourth day at Indore.

We should get all the caveats out of the way early.

India is an immensely difficult place to tour, especially when they are preparing dry, turning surfaces. Ashwin is a world-class spinner the likes of which are almost impossible to replicate in preparation. Losing the toss on all three occasions on tailor-made tracks turned a tough task into a monumental one (and provided a further boost to those who believe the toss should be abandoned in favour of getting the away team first option). The umpiring rub of the green went the host's way.

Far better sides than New Zealand have been to India lately and have returned home with their tails between their legs. The Black Caps could have played a lot better and still lost 3-0, but that is beside the point. For the purposes of this exercise, this series should not be viewed in isolation, but rather as the continuation of 12 months of relentless deterioration.

These are 10 questions White should insist on having answers for.

1. Have you surrounded yourself with the right people, particularly the specialised batting and bowling coaches?

2. If so, why on the fourth day of the third test, on a pitch that was difficult but not unplayable, did many of the batsman appear to abandon the plans they had employed in the previous two-and-a-half tests?

3. Was the planning up to scratch in the first instance (or, phrased more facetiously, you did get the memo that we were touring India this year, didn't you)?

4. Why are you turning the limited pre-test matches into mockeries by playing 15-a-side?

5. Would it not make far more sense to pick your presumptive test XI and have them playing proper cricket, with the rest of the squad working hard in the nets?

6. Do we need a reconfigured selection panel?

7. Why do you pick players with moderate first-class records and expect them to be good test players (this is worth a column in itself, particularly given New Zealand's finite resources)?

8. What is the point of us [NZC] running an expensive domestic programme if it's going to be essentially ignored around the selection table in favour of hunches?

9. How do you plan to reverse the test fortunes by November?

10. What can I [White] give you to assist that process?

There are other, more nebulous themes White should touch on, like a possible slipping of standards. These can be seen in some tailender's innings being treated like a slapstick comedy routines. Hesson's attitude to humour is apparently Presbyterian in outlook - it shouldn't be performed until the dishes are washed, dried and stacked away and the children are in bed - so why is the joke allowed to continue?

Why was videographer Willy Nicholls allowed on the field in a warm-up match in Africa when there were no reports of typhoid or cholera sweeping the side, and there were evidently able-bodied squad members with their feet up?

It doesn't need to be a Salem trial (though it always pays to keep that option open). Hesson was criticised for all the wrong reasons when he took over the largely thankless task of coaching New Zealand and went about proving his detractors stupid by embracing a positive brand of cricket and empowering his players to be fearless in executing it.

But somewhere along the line either the messages have got muddled or the execution has gone awry. It's time for a reboot.

Support for cricket here can be fickle and NZC cannot afford another period of alienation. Giving Hesson some distance from a squad now, challenging him to account for his losses and to articulate his future strategy is the least White should do.


THE WEEK IN MEDIA ...

This is the amusing account of a man who created a non-existent paper to cover his favour team.

This is the far less amusing tale of Sir Bradley Wiggins' questionable use of therapeutic Use Exemptions, once more casting a pall over road cycling.

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