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The Volts have laboured through a largely joyless period of cricket and their struggles look set to continue. While the team is still a chance in the one-day competition, recent performances have been far from encouraging. And the team has come off what was arguably its worst twenty20 campaign.
The Plunket Shield has not gone much better, either. It lost its last four matches and is positioned very close to the foot of the competition table.
The Volts finished last in all three formats last season, so perhaps the lack of positive results should not come as a great surprise. But a quick scan of the personnel reveals this team ought to be much more competitive. Otago has not been crippled by injury setbacks as it was in 2016-17. It also recruited new talent in Rob Nicol, Shawn Hicks and Matthew Bacon. On paper, everything checks out. So what is going wrong?
Those close to the team fall into two camps when trying to explain the chasm between the Volts’ potential and their performances. Some feel there is a culture of blame within the team and players have not been given the leeway required to play through rough patches of form.
There has been too much chopping and changing — Otago used 20 players during the twenty20 campaign, for example.
There has been the odd moan about the amount of training the team is doing as well. That can be mentally taxing and it has showed in the performances. The Volts have looked flat and the energy quickly flags when games start to slip away.
The coaching staff of Rob Walter and Anton Roux place a lot of emphasis on discipline and structure. Training sessions are much more intense than under previous regimes. How that fits with some of the senior players is a little murky. But they have certainly trained less and performed better in the past. And maybe two or three of the senior players have just fallen a little out of love with the game. Depending on who you talk to, Otago is either a happy camp or a divided one. But most agree something needs to change.
The other school of thought shifts the blame from the culture to the senior players. They are the ones who should be shepherding the team through what is a transition period. Some context is important here. Following the 20015-16 season, the post-season review revealed the players wanted more support from the coaching staff. Former coach Nathan King’s position became untenable and he resigned. The players got what they wanted — Walter and Roux have certainly put more structure around the team but we should be seeing the rewards by now. Perhaps it is a case of be careful what you wish for. Some of those same players are now struggling in the environment they asked for in order to take their games forward.
The word is Walter is regarded highly by those who matter most and his contract has another year to run. It does not appear he will adapt his style greatly, so perhaps we will see the odd senior player move on.
There has been talk that a very prominent Otago player is already looking at making a move north. If you look at the season averages, it is reasonably clear it is the younger players who are benefiting most from Walter’s approach.
Of course, in cricket you get three strikes. If Otago can emerge from its malaise, it could still win the one-day title and all will be forgiven. No more painful navel-gazing.