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New Zealand Cricket Contracts
26 Jun 2005
By: Andrew Marmont


Upon the announcement of New Zealand's contracted players for 2005/06, many Black Cap cricket fans took delight in the sheer quality of the names that were read out compared to previous seasons. Their one world-class pace bowler in Shane Bond was recalled after more than two years "missing in action", while all-rounder Jacob Oram was sufficiently recovered from back problems.

Fantastic.

Brilliant.

As fans, I'm sure all the Black Caps supporters out there were rejoicing at the above announcement, overjoyed at the sheer potential that the aforementioned line-up could fulfil. Who would open with Bond for example? The very dilemma was almost salivating to think about, as a side constantly depleted in bowling stocks in particular was suddenly ripe with options.

Between the buzz and excitement, two players in particular must be shaking their heads with disappointment.

Matthew Sinclair has been such an irregular fixture in both forms of the game for the national side that I'm sure it will come at a surprise when he gets the next call of duty. The man has had more comebacks than Allan Langer. Sinclair has been constantly looking over his shoulder for his next recall or whether he would return to the scrapheap.

After screaming onto the scene with a double century on debut against the West Indies, Sinclair was already being talked about as the most promising number 3 since Andrew Jones. The fatal problem for the Australian-born batsman was his inconsistency. No one doubted his inability to play the long innings; to score the big centuries. It was simply his single-figure contributions in between the glory that prompted the selectors to consistently re-evaluate his position in the test side.

Sinclair has been used in recent times to fill deficiencies in the shaky New Zealand top order - to plug gaps until permanency was found. He scored a half- century on a comeback against the touring South Africans in 2003/04, but was not called upon until the whistle-stop tour of Australian in late 2004. Used as a stopgap opener due to Mark Richardson's retirement, he made a steady and vital 69, playing with necessary caution.

Sinclair was essentially facing a baptism of fire - in a completely unfamiliar role - to blunt the best attack in the game with all the authority and assurance akin to a man walking a tight-rope for the first time. Like the rest of New Zealand's batting, he failed to make an impression on the rest of the tour. Promptly dropped after a stint in the Chappell-Hadlee series, Sinclair was told to work on his game at domestic level.

A player of his experience, class and sheer ability was left out of the contracted 20 top players.

Ian Butler must feel a pang of disappointment not withstanding. Picked by Sir Richard Hadlee as a raw talent to be persevered with, Butler started shakily in the one-day colours, with only a handful of first-class matches behind him.

Injuries were sustained here and there, but Butler still managed to play test cricket and post career-best figures of 6 for 76 against Pakistan in 2003-4. He toured the West Indies, played in the Natwest Series of last year in England and appeared in one Chappell-Hadlee match.

Surely a player of his potential, X-factor quality and sheer ability would be awarded a contract?

Not so.

When queried about Butler's exclusion, national coach John Bracewell explained Butler was placed behind Chris Martin, Daryl Tuffey, James Franklin, Bond and Oram in the pecking order.

Timing can be fickle at the best of times, especially in competitive sport. Butler paid the price for being injured all of last year. In that time the pace duo of Franklin and Martin shouldered the attack with varying degrees of success, from Bangladesh to Australia. The significant return of Bond, and to a lesser extent Oram, effectively drove the nail in Butler's contractual coffin.

The key issue is that 20 top-class players are not enough to fill New Zealand's widening talent pool. If Chris Harris warrants a place on reputation, then so be it. However he is 35 years of age, recovering from a potential career-ending injury and has not been a regular starter in the one-day arena since 2003. Oram has filled his shoes as the modern all-rounder, together with the evergreen Chris Cairns. There is simply no room for Harris' reliable cover-point fielding, noodle-and-nudge batting and slow leg-breaks in the current team dynamic. Granted he has been a tremendous servant to New Zealand's one-day game, but his career is nearing its twilight.

With a quality extra batsman in Sinclair and the genuine attacking potential of Butler, one wonders at the logic of having only 20 players contracted at the top.

Throw in the emerging talent of batsmen Jamie How, Ross Taylor and Peter Fulton and, in years to come, quick bowlers such as Richard Sherlock and Te Ahu Davis. Not forgetting the established fringe players such as Tama Canning, Andre Adams and Gareth Hopkins. It paints a burgeoning picture. Top first-class players will wonder how they can ever force their way into such a tight list of elites.

Twenty-five would be a more logical number of contracted players. Sinclair and Butler in particular would have increased incentive to give it their all, knowing they will get paid top money to wear the silver fern, rather than the comparative crumbs earned in first-class cricket.

Contracted Players: Nathan Astle, Shane Bond, Chris Cairns, Craig Cumming, Stephen Fleming, James Franklin, Chris Harris, Brendon McCullum, Craig McMillan, Hamish Marshall, James Marshall, Chris Martin, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Michael Papps, Scott Styris, Daryl Tuffey, Lou Vincent, Daniel Vettori, Paul Wiseman.


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