Petty officials, chaotic politics, uninspired cricketers, forgotten identity and lost leadership was life in Asia, or at least that’s how their cricket could be sometimes neatly summed up in 10 words.
Move over India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – you have a new nation who wishes to join the league of the dysfunctional: New Zealand.
While the cricket world has cast a firm eye on the surging Twenty20 format and the upcoming back-to-back Ashes series, New Zealand cricket has been allowed to slide past mediocrity and into an abyss with other tragic stragglers like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
In what can only be described as uncompetitive dribble, the Black Caps lost two consecutive test matches by over an innings to the number one ranked South Africa.
New Zealand is not alone in posting embarrassing low totals of 45 (first innings of the first test) and 121 (first innings of the second test) against the premier bowling attack in the world. Australia scored 47 runs at Cape Town in 2011 but Australia came back hitting hard and showed a far greater application of skill and mental toughness.
The most worrying part of New Zealand’s decay is the lack of united effort and leadership from the XI.
The Black Caps have not always been blessed with elite talent and with a significantly smaller population than other cricketing nations, remaining in the top four or five in test rankings can be a challenge.
Yet historically, where New Zealand may have lacked in talent, they ably combatted with a united disciplined effort.
The finest cricket captain of the twenty-first century hails from Christchurch, New Zealand. Stephen Fleming who led the Black Caps to series victories over India, England, West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and played 111 tests for New Zealand, had no rival in the tactical and leadership department.
Granted, Fleming had handy and at times devastating talent in Chris Cairns, Shane Bond, Brendon McCullum, Daniel Vettori and Craig McMillan but it was Fleming’s ability to drill the entire test and one day teams to play a hard edged style with a team-first mentality that makes him stand out above his peers.
Fleming arrived as New Zealand’s youngest test captain and departed as the greatest Kiwi captain.
Fleming instilled a success-driven culture where everyone, from the top down, could contribute ideas and values that would help in the pursuit of high performance.
“It just comes down to that skill of listening, and giving everyone the opportunity to make a difference,” Fleming explained in his autobiography Stephen Fleming: Balance of Power. “The answer is to turn everyone else into leaders as well.”
At the moment, there seems to be few leaders on the field and in the administration of New Zealand cricket.
New Zealand’s handling of their current most prestigious talent, Ross Taylor, has been a basket case. Taylor’s sacking from captaincy was nothing more than an unceremonious knifing by the board. Whether or not Taylor is a solid leader (there are countering opinions), the fact remains that Taylor’s sacking was messy, ugly and can only add further strain and fracture within the Black Caps’ squad.
New Zealand cricket has been holding on to dear life ever since Fleming’s retirement from the game. Vettori’s experience, monumental improvement in his batting and workhorse left-arm spinners assured that there was still universal respect for the Black Caps. With his inevitable departure from the playing field, darker days are ahead.
Back in 2001, the Kiwis nearly pulled off a great series upset (resulting in a 0-0 draw) against an Australian side at the peak of their powers. Through relentless planning and execution and calmly assured captain, New Zealand overachieved.
“None of the decisions he ever made reeked of panic, even when there were times when our batsmen were well on top of their bowlers,” Shane Warne said of Stephen Fleming in Shane Warne’s Century. “It is important for players to be able to see a captain who looks as though he is in control.”
New Zealand cricket is crying out for Fleming’s style of captaincy, for his guile, coolness and toughness under suffocating pressure.
Sports fans love the scrappy underdog and the Black Caps need to rediscover their biting ways.