He's been back in his home town this week for the first time in years, but globetrotting cricket coach John Bracewell says his real reason for taking the job as head coach of Northern Districts is nothing particularly romantic or sentimental.

"I had to be back in the country because I'm 60 and I have to work here for five years before I can get a pension and I'm about to become a grandparent and my kids are on this side of the world, or one of them is anyway, and we want to be close to where they are," he says.

Bracewell takes the reigns at ND for Plunket Shield first class games and the 50 over Ford Trophy matches. During the T20 Burger King Super Smash he hands over to Gareth Hopkins.

"I like the attitude of the players here. They're problem solvers, as opposed to problem makers and they have a really healthy attitude to where cricket is going."


Bracewell is the most accomplished of a distinguished cricket family. His brother Brendon played test cricket too, two other brothers Doug and Mark played first class matches, his nephew Doug (son of Brendon) has also been a Black Cap, while another nephew Michael plays for Otago.

John himself played 41 test matches and 53 one day internationals between 1980 and 1990 as a fiercely competitive off spinner and useful lower order batsman.

His greatest moments as a player were at Eden Park in 1986 when he produced a brilliant spell of 6 for 32 in Australia's second innings to set up a comfortable New Zealand win.

Even from the distance of 32 years, that delivery to Australia's captain and lynchpin Allan Border which pitched on leg stump and hit the top of off remains one of the most memorable in our test history.

After he finished playing, his coaching career includes two stints with English county side Gloucestershire, six years as the Black Caps boss and most recently in charge of Ireland, as that country progressed to test match status.

These last few days he's been with the Northern Districts squad, less their numerous Black Caps players, in the nets and on the outfield at Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui.

It's the final training camp before the Plunket Shield season starts with a four day match at the Bay Oval from Wednesday.

He remembers the area where the cricket ground now is very differently in his boyhood.


"The last time I was at Blake Park was probably when I about was 10 years of age. We used to play 10th grade rugby round here and these all used to be sand dunes. It's been a long time coming, but it always had the potential, this area, to grow as a cricket environment."

He went to high school here, at Tauranga Boys' College, but didn't stay long after.

Northern Districts head coach John Bracewell says the local cricket players are problem solvers. Photo / John Borren
Northern Districts head coach John Bracewell says the local cricket players are problem solvers. Photo / John Borren

"There was nothing in the town for us at that stage, once you left school. If you wanted to advance yourself, you kind of had to leave. So the day I left school was the day I left home."

That was 1976. Within a couple of years he was making an impression for the Otago cricket team and made his debut for New Zealand on the 1980 tour of Australia.

His international career coincided with the first golden era of the game in this country, and he was an integral part of it, especially in test matches.

The year 1986 was a big one.

Not only did he take that match-winning spell in Auckland, he scored his only test century at Trent Bridge in Nottingham when New Zealand beat the home team to set up their first ever test series win in England.

His most recent foray in international cricket has been as coach of Ireland, who until gaining test status this year, were one of the so called associate members of the International Cricket Council.

"I was really interested in the associate world. It's quite a cruel world because their whole funding is based on either getting full international status or qualifying for World Cups."

While Ireland, and Afghanistan are now fully fledged test playing nations, he feels for the likes of Holland.

"If they don't qualify for the World Cup, they have to go home and sack all their staff because they lose all their funding (from the ICC) and they don't make any money outside of that. So it's a really harsh world, and a hard world to get ahead in.

"But for Ireland and Afghanistan to make it through, and now there's the emergence of Scotland, it's really quite a neat thing."

Bracewell has an interesting take on the rise of the rich T20 leagues springing up all round the world, one he's about his dip his toes into again in Australia.

"It's kind of the coaching you want to do when you're finished coaching," he jokes.

"But I am intrigued with coach mentoring, coach development and with coaching itself, the physicality of coaching, not the man-management of egos."

That's why he's taken up an assistant's role under fellow New Zealander and former fast bowler Shane Bond at the Sydney Thunder in Australia's Big Bash, starting just after Christmas.

He's really impressed by Bond brings to coaching T20 teams.

"Shane has almost a Moneyball mentality to his coaching," he says, referring to the famous book and movie about the Oakland A's baseball team in California that used statistical analysis to get championship winning results from a team that was not previously high achieving.

"I spent three weeks with Shane and Daniel Vettori at the Brisbane Heat and I was intrigued as to where coaching in T20 is, and how they develop skills and how they go about that process.

"I also think that Shane Bond could be an outstanding coach and I'd like to help him with that."

His first match in charge of Northern Districts will be the Plunket Shield game against his old team, Otago.

Black Caps stars Kane Williamson, Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Colin de Grandhomme and Ish Sodhi are theoretically all available to play before heading off on tour to the United Arab Emirates at the end of the month.

But will they?

"Well, that was the original plan," he laughs.

"But there's an ideal and there's a real. There's a couple of niggly injuries after their camp last week and they have to monitor their workloads before heading away.

"But we'd love to have them. We have a lot of young guys who'd love the chance to bat with Kane Williamson or bowl at the other end with Trent Boult, or watch Ish Sodhi weave his magic – something I'm looking forward to myself."