More questions than answers
09 Nov 2005
By: Andrew Marmont
The New Zealand captain was restless.
His team had just completed their tour of Africa with a resounding one-day tournament victory, followed by a series whitewash where they lost every game they played.
It was a time to reflect for the skipper; the bowling had been erratic, the batsmen didn't apply themselves often enough. As a captain, he had been outgunned and out-batted.
The year was late 2000.
Split Enz would argue that history never repeats, but on this occasion it did.
After hammering Zimbabwe and India, the Black Caps had every reason to enjoy a quiet confidence about winning a series in southern Africa for the first time.
New Zealand sent their best possible team overseas, with the exception of Christopher Cairns. Certainly their batting unit had a confident air about it, and with Shane Bond they had genuine wicket-taking ability.
With all that proven talent, the scoreline still reads 0-4. That is the scary thought for New Zealand fans.
New Zealand was competitive in all of the matches, only to collapse when the pressure was at its utmost. It could have meant dropping a catch, soft batting dismissals or ill-directed line and length bowling.
It was arguably a case of performance, or rather, lack of it.
The top order hardly fired a shot all tour. Nathan Astle was non-descript, Hamish Marshall continued to struggle. Scott Styris played one good knock, and Craig McMillan once again showed his impatience when the long innings was required.
Fleming himself made a couple of starts but didn't convert them.
Coach John Bracewell identified Marshall before the tour as the rock to which the rest of the batting would base itself around. That theory will have to wait just a little longer.
Lou Vincent was the one positive. He played aggressively and made a crucial 90 plus another half-century. Vincent has all the shots, but to be a long-term number three must learn to know how to balance attack and defence.
If this team are to seriously challenge for the World Cup, then more players need to stand up and take responsibility. Too often it has been Astle and Fleming to play the match-winning innings. Players like Styris, McMillan, Marshall, Vincent and even Brendon McCullum must assume seniority if Fleming or Astle fails.
Shane Bond experienced his first dip in form since his career began. His control was wayward despite generating consistent pace. It may be a blessing in disguise as he had destroyed all and sundry up until this tour.
Recent developments have plunged this team further down the quagmire.
As if New Zealand's slip from third to sixth on the ICC one-day rankings wasn't bad enough, there are fresh suggestions that a rift occurred between Fleming and Bracewell while on tour.
With such a disastrous tour such a thought is not entirely out of the question.
New Zealand Cricket has failed to deny any accusation, preferring to instead debrief the players after the tour.
The events of game five were of the most concern to this reporter. Fleming's childish portrayal of opposition captain Graeme Smith and Kyle Mills prolonged sledging at the latter achieved nothing but the admittance of an utter thrashing. It may have worked when Smith was an impressionable 22 year-old, but he has grown as a cricketer since and developed into a fine leader.
The South African skipper simply laughed off Mills' goading. Maybe he was reminding himself of the score-line?
New Zealand must now get their house in order. There are three weeks until Australia arrive for the highly anticipated return Chappell-Hadlee series.
If we are to believe Bracewell's sentiments about building this group of players for the World Cup, then this series may be the defining moment in his coaching career.