Chris Rattue: Twenty20 gravy train steals more of our talent

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Another dismal affair was foisted on the long-suffering cricket public on Saturday night, only for the new day to bring the cheering news that some of the perpetrators are to join the throngs making a fortune playing in the backyard bash a long way from home.

In a boon to the nation's cricketing morale, we hear that Jesse Ryder, whose international career is promisingly half-baked, and Tim Southee, who has barely got the ingredients out of the cupboard, may scoop half a million bucks a year each in return for helping India to fuel its insatiable desire to turn cricket into a raucous circus. Hooray for Twenty20 - we are all so excited for them.

These Million Dollar Test Babes are set for life, and the moment is fast approaching when Southee, Ryder and all will face the difficult choice of whether they drive to the next rain-sodden cricketing scrapheap in this country in a Porsche or a Lamborghini.

Days such as those when John Wright scrapped in the Wellington weather to set up our first win over England, or when Mark Greatbatch batted forever to save a test in Perth, are far too distant memories as our modern marvels sell their wickets cheaply and cash in for millions. The sad fact is that blasting risky sixes is becoming a better meal ticket than any dedication to a cause.

New Zealand cricket has had its moments, and very proud ones at that. In a country of cricketing handicaps, a lot of us have accepted that when it comes to international success, there will be a bit of time between drinks.

Where are the new breed of superheroes who will actually deliver? Saturday was a dark night too far as our superstar bat-man Brendon McCullum and friends failed again in a stadium so under-construction the field almost rated as a compulsory hard-hat area.

A vacant New Zealand performance and typically hopeless weather were shaded by the unbridled joy of the victorious West Indians, who are doomed to live in the shadow of so many illustrious predecessors.

For current West Indian players, it is as if a swag of Richard Hadlees had gone before. At least our cricketers have only one true legend to live up to, and the tourists' celebrations on a rather mild occasion said it all.

What a horribly bleak viewing experience, though, and you could almost see a wrecking ball swing into view, right through the dear old game of cricket itself.

This West Indian team are one of the worst to tour New Zealand, yet here we are, into the New Year, and they have shared a rain-affected test series then jumped to a lead in the one-dayers, the first match having been another victim of the rain.

Still, there isn't much that doesn't appear to bring joy and hope to the heart and lips of New Zealand Cricket boss Justin Vaughan, who is delighted about our cricketing failures making hay in the Indian Twenty20 sun.

These spells in India will do wonders for their cricket by letting them blast away shoulder to shoulder with the game's superstars, Vaughan reckons, as well as coming to grips with playing in the sub-continent.

NZC, it appears, is set on the Twenty20 path, and maybe it has little choice.

So fair enough. Fill your boots, boys, and make whoopee with the rupee. But the action-starved crowds in New Zealand have every right to ask if they are getting a good deal, and if what many of us still consider the real game is being tainted by the Twenty20 craze.

At this point in the summer, the most memorable events include a strange piece of hokey-pokey in the radio commentary box, which at least provided those who heard about it with a humorous diversion to a game short on tip-top condition. There was also a debate on how tied Twenty20 matches should be decided. I cringe, quite frankly.

The weather hasn't helped, but Daniel Vettori's Black Caps just aren't firing, and his captaincy deserves more scrutiny after New Zealand failed to protect a reasonable total against out-of-form batsmen on Saturday night. In a sport awash with controversy, money and spin of the mind-altering variety though, the microscope has been twisted.

And yet, it still pays to remember that New Zealand failed to grab a golden opportunity against Australia and are now struggling against a Windies side hardly worth the name.

Once again on Saturday night, the New Zealand top order largely failed - which is about as newsworthy as recording that rain severely affected the match.

The standout aspect is that McCullum, whose bat is not slamming down nearly as dramatically as the hammer wielded by India's cricket auctioneers, lasted a magnificent two balls and contributed one.

This severely shortened contest was tailor-made for what are regarded as McCullum's talents even if he seems to bat better when chasing instead of setting a target.

McCullum gets a free ride in this country.

Commentators see him as a swashbuckler who can't get enough of the action. Yet take out a wild century against frail Ireland, and he has averaged just 12 in his past eight one-day innings against England, Scotland, Bangladesh and the West Indies.

He's hardly setting the world on fire as a middle-order test batter either, averaging 25 against the erratic West Indies, and totalling 125 in two tests against a fading Australian attack. He is a man capable of so much more.

Forget John Bracewell and Leading Teams, because it is the pin-up boy of NZ cricket who is falling short where it counts.

McCullum cuts a dash in India, where he pulls $1.2 million a year for stuff all, but don't tell me that having a swish at every delivery and finding himself rolling in financial clover is doing anything for his desperation and technique in the proper game.

Test tyro Southee might be made of sterner stuff, but I fear the buttoned-down flamboyance of the fragile Ryder will go the same way, as he prepares to step off a desolate NZ platform on to the Indian gravy train.

- NZ Herald

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