Winning cricketing respect

Mike Hesson
Mike Hesson
When a reckoning is completed on the primary figures of Otago cricket in the past 70 years,  Mike Hesson’s name should be there.

He might not have played first-class cricket, but his contribution to the sport locally and nationally stands out.  He warrants a place along with the likes of Glenn Turner, Iain Gallaway, Bert Sutcliffe, Stephen Boock, Warren Lees and Suzie Bates.

Hesson resigned as New Zealand cricket coach last week after six mostly successful years. 

He earlier spent six years as Otago coach, a tenure that again far exceeded expectations.

He succeeded John Wright as national coach, and was a meticulous, well-organised, thoughtful and determined man with a low profile.  

In contrast, Wright had been a New Zealand opener and captain, a character much-loved and respected, although fiercely determined in his own style.

Hesson’s beginning in charge could hardly have been less auspicious. 

There was the dropping as captain of the popular Ross Taylor, and the installation of Brendon McCullum, his Otago colleague, in a process that  became  a public relations calamity. Letters were leaked, blazers burnt and, it would seem, a divided team faced a poor future.

There followed the debacle of being bowled all out for 45 in South Africa before the team showed mettle and came to be a threat to all, especially at home.  But it was not just results that marked the team. 

Led by the exuberance and daring of McCullum, the team played in what the spirit of the game should be; hard but respectful, purposeful but fair.

Some believe this is the key part of his legacy, as the rest of the world catches up and as Australia faces fallout from ball-tampering and the highlighting of its foul and bullying  cricketing culture.

Hesson had no place for brilliant but wayward Jesse Ryder, and he helped set a tone that earned him respect.  

He proved good coaches do not have to be big names with big personalities, a point other sports could well take note of.

He was also, with Bruce Edgar, steady and loyal with selections.  In a nation with relatively few players,  that is important.

Of course, he was helped immeasurably by the quality of this generation of cricketers, as well as his two captains,  McCullum and Kane Williamson.  

In these two, Taylor and Trent Bolt and  Tim Southee,  he had class at the core of his team.

Without talent, a coach can only do so much, especially in a sport so dependent on  independent performances.  Nevertheless, many a team with top cricketers has proved mediocre.  

Hesson still had to bring  out the best in his charges.

A highlight was the 2015 run to the World Cup final.  The semi in Auckland when South Africa was vanquished with Grant Elliott’s six off the second-to-last ball will long be remembered. 

The disappointments include the collapse in the final and failures in some big matches.

Overall,  the performance of Hesson and his troops makes proud reading. There are more test wins than loses, including a series over India (at home) and this year the first home test series victory over England. 

The ODT record is impressive and twenty20 best of all, briefly reaching No 1 world ranking.

Any family person  will empathise with the demands of the role.  One year he  spent 320 nights away from his wife and two daughters. 

And as a perfectionist he could not undertake a part job.

He has already been praised in a short stint commenting during an Indian Premier League match, and a  role coaching in that league would be lucrative and relatively short-term.  

At 43,  Dunedin born and bred Hesson has time for more innings in his cricket career, time to further develop his reputation and his place among Otago’s cricketing greats.

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