More than just a trophy…

Sri Lanka vs Black Caps during Test Series.

When you are looking through the TV guide tomorrow looking for some evening viewing, take a moment to consider New Zealand’s opening game of the Champions Trophy in South Africa. The last time the Black Caps graced our screens they were disappointing to say the least, but there is a lot riding on this tournament.

Sri Lanka proved a difficult tour for several reasons and saw the batting woes of the test series return in the two one day games of the Compaq Cup, in Colombo.

Squeezed in between the disappointments were two successful T20 matches against a side who were not long ago T20 World Cup finalists. It is one of those remarkable anomalies that the side that was so successful against Sri Lanka in the shortest format can be so dismal in the fifty over games. The change in fortune is an example of how the shorter format can really level the playing field between sides, and how different a game it is becoming.

My side in New Zealand, the Northern Knights, knows just that feeling after winning the domestic one-day competition last season, only to come last in the T20 competition. Our one-day campaign was built on miserly bowling by our two spinners through the middle overs, a feature that can be overcome by some lusty hitting in twenty over games.

The Champions Trophy is a tournament that is all about momentum. The new refined version differs significantly from the straight knockout originally played in 1998. Hopefully for the 50 over format, and New Zealand Cricket, this tournament will provide the impetus for both to get up off the canvas. Both need big performances if their supporters are to stay loyal. New Zealand’s batsmen have a lot to prove, mostly to themselves, that they are capable of performing and competing with the worlds best.

The New Zealand cricket fan must be admired for their patience with the talent pool, playing numbers and our obsession with the oval ball all conspiring to make it difficult to win regularly at the international level. Many of the current Black Caps side were thrust into the side prematurely, based on talent and not their record. Unfortunately, New Zealand’s limited player base and its preoccupation with discovering the next big thing, means many of the countries best players end up learning their trade at the highest level. It is no wonder that the side has a record of such ups and downs when the majority of the batting line up is still learning how to bat long periods.

Martin Guptill will become a very good international player but it is a big ask for Guppy to go out and open the batting and score test hundreds for his country when he has only scored one First-Class hundred. Here is a player nominated for the ICC International One Day Emerging Player award, yet in a lot of ways he is still emerging on our domestic stage.

Ross Taylor had only scored 3 First-Class hundreds before his selection, so had to learn how to handle the ups and downs most players cope with in domestic cricket, playing under the spotlight for New Zealand. He now, at the tender age of 25, is the Black Caps most senior batsman and the man that has to carry the weight of responsibility for helping the players around him.

New Zealand cricket has always fought above its weight, with registered players just over 100,000, compared to Australia’s 500,000 and England’s 800,000. The reality is the premature retirement of several of the countries best players of the last decade left a gaping hole in the top order. Players like Chris Cairns, Nathan Astle, Chris Harris and Stephen Fleming all retired at about 35 years old or less, with Craig McMillan and Adam Parore retiring at just 31.

Unlike some of their Australian counterparts, the majority of these players’ retirements were from all cricket, denying young domestic players the opportunity to learn from them and for there be a gentle transition. There were several reasons why these players chose not to continue for longer in the game, ranging from selection issues, family commitments, more lucrative business opportunities (cricket, mortgages and home ventilation systems) or health reasons.

On choosing to retire from international cricket, it is understandable that most chose not to return to domestic cricket. An inability to negotiate multi year contracts for even our most distinguished players discourages them from staying on, and insufficient remuneration makes it an even less attractive prospect.

With the Black Caps current batch of players essentially being split into two groups, IPL contracted players and emerging players, there is a real risk that if some of the major issues around scheduling and remuneration aren’t addressed, this years stand off over contracts may be a worrying sign of things to come. If the disagreement escalates again next year, there could be another grand exodus only a few years after the last mass migration, placing New Zealand cricket in a position it may not be able to recover from.

Earlier this week rumours began to circulate about a two-tier test schedule and New Zealand’s ranking would put them in the bottom half. That would be a financial disaster for New Zealand Cricket and would affect not just the elite programs, but would also damage the organisation’s ability to promote and manage recreational cricket as well.

The Champions Trophy tournament is crucial for the players, the administrators, the supporters, and the game in its 50 over format. It is still the only ICC tournament we have won thus far.

With that previous success, and all those interested parties, it should make for good ratings at least…


Nice to have an update from you Peter. I\’ve enjoyed following your articles the past few months.What are you getting up to after missing out on the Champions Trophy squad? Preparing with the Knights?

Comment by Mary | 12:00am BST 23 September 2009

“New Zealand cricket has always fought above its weight, with registered players just over 100,000, compared to Australia’s 500,000 and England’s 800,000.”

Great article. This quote caught my eye. NZ cricket’s registered players may get lower I believe. Despite the fact we have grown in population from 3M to 4M people in the last 20 years the total number of people playing cricket MAY be showing signs of declining anecdotally. People in my club report that for my city there were some 500 kids playing cricket 20 years ago while there are only 300 now.

I wish I had firmer numbers to back this up than just quotes from people. If anyone has some scientific information please post it.

Comment by Hurricane | 12:00am BST 23 September 2009

Good article Peter.

As you say, NZ being put into a second tier in test matches, if the ICC chose to go that way, would be a total disaster. That idea will only do bad things for test cricket in NZ, West Indies and probably SL & Pakistan (if they were lumped into the bottom tier with us)

Also, think it was a bad decision from the selectors not to include you in the CT squad, so commiserations there. With Oram out for tonights game we’re looking rather light in the batting, and you might have been in with a shout of playing. Will be interesting to see what the selectors do.

Comment by straw man | 12:00am BST 24 September 2009

Interesting reading, and makes one think about those players listed as retirees. Many of them came through a time when the NZ cricket team was thought of as a bunch of individuals and selfish. The fact that many of these players retired and haven’t gone back to domestic cricket (C.Harris apart)makes me wonder. Of course, I don’t have to make a living from playing cricket and can’t relate to that.
Enjoy the writing Peter, Looking forward to another ND year.

Comment by Dougal | 12:00am BST 25 September 2009

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