Now the rants regarding New Zealand's atrocious first test
performance in Sri Lanka have eased, it is time to look at a
constructive method to solve the team's current problems like
playing spin, playing spin and playing spin.
There must be a cricketing solution for New Zealand beyond
the horrendous shot selection, the inability to recognise the
release point for Rangana Herath's variations (despite the
modern-day benefits of video analysis) and the psychological
pounding from a side they dominated a generation ago.
Surely one answer lies in encouraging young New Zealanders to
go to India and Sri Lanka on cricketing working holidays.
Perhaps the country's top youth talent could forgo the
time-honoured OE tradition of the English league and pints of
best bitter at 18, 19 or 20 to head to the subcontinent for a
cocktail of maidans and masala. New Zealand Cricket could
even establish the odd link through former national players
and coaches David Trist and John Wright who forged solid
contacts, especially in India.
The NZC might open their coffers and invest in scholarships,
particularly for top order batsmen and spin bowlers, so they
can immerse themselves in the culture. Such OEs would
introduce players to the wiles of spin at an earlier age,
hopefully with the long-term benefit of representing New
Zealand in a less possum-in-the-headlights fashion.
Sincere efforts were made in this regard but they tended to
be token. Former New Zealand Academy boss Dayle Hadlee
chaperoned Tim Southee and Hamish Bennett to the Dennis
Lillee-run Madras' MRF Pace Foundation school for a fortnight
in 2007 along with national development teams being sent to
the subcontinent to hone their skills. However, those
environments tended to be cloistered; participants didn't
have to think much for themselves. Is it too much to ask for
adventurous cricketers to eke out a unique experience with a
local club for a couple of months?
They could perhaps forego plush, sterile hotels for the
cheaper, 'character-building' surrounds of a high quality
youth hostel. The transport would be tuk-tuks, not
Donning a cap in humid mid 30-degree temperatures and
practising your craft on the low and slow dustbowls of an
expansive maidan on a Saturday afternoon, just like Sachin
Tendulkar did 25 years ago in Mumbai must surely hold allure.
Alternatively, players could make their name among the
plethora of clubs in the Colombo suburb of Cinnamon Gardens.
New Zealand might see a return to innings like Stephen
Fleming's 274 not out in a test at Colombo almost a decade
A sustained spell in a club competition might be too much to
ask. Another option could be schooling players at one of
numerous reputable local academies, particularly in India.
The Herald on Sunday understands it would not be hard to
strike up a relationship with a local association or to
entice former first-class bowlers and other top quality
tweakers to bowl at players in sustained net sessions over a
fortnight for minimum financial reward. It would be an
extension to what New Zealand has done in the past, bringing
in the likes of former test players Saqlain Mushtaq and
Chaminda Vaas for guidance.
The question of more experienced New Zealand players immersed
in sub-continental provincial competitions is more difficult.
As an example, India, unlike New Zealand, tends to keep a
tight rein on allowing internationals players into the Ranji
Trophy because it is seen as a sacrosanct nursery where they
learn to play test cricket. Even Chris Cairns was apparently
turned down in his pomp.
- By Andrew Alderson