The Bracewell Story (so far?)

The pained expression so often visible on the face of New Zealand coach John Bracewell is unlikely to be missing at the moment, with the decision on his future set to be made in the not too distant future by New Zealand Cricket. While he is keen to have his contract extended, he is not going to get the position unopposed. Rumoured candidates include the man a large number of New Zealand fans have been wanting for the best part of a decade in John Wright, spectacularly successful domestic cricket coach Dipak Patel and even a surprise contender, arguably the team’s most successful ever coach in Australian Steve Rixon.

If they decided not to extend Bracewell’s contract, would it be a harsh move leaving his dream unfulfilled and undoing all his long-term planning? Or would it be a long overdue humane move to relieve the suffering of Black Caps fans?

John Bracewell took over the role in September of 2003 with near-unanimous approval after his remarkable success with English county side Gloucestershire, particularly in the one-day form of the game. The change was immediately evident, with Bracewell’s being a very different personality to his recent predecessors in David Trist and Denis Aberhart. Those two preferred to act simply in a coaching role, taking a back seat and leaving almost all of the leadership side of things to captain Stephen Fleming, whereas Bracewell soon made his presence felt in taking a major role in that aspect as well as the coaching role he was inheriting from his predecessors. Some speculate whether the sharing in leadership off the field has reduced the quality of Fleming’s leadership on it.

But that is just speculation. Let’s look at the facts of Bracewell’s time at the helm and start with the most obvious ones – the results. In 29 Tests, the team achieved 9 wins with 12 losses and 8 drawn matches. Not too bad for a team which has struggled to take 20 wickets regularly in Test matches in recent years.

Bracewell was expected to make a big difference to an already competitive ODI team. Did he? In 78 ODIs with the bespectacled Aucklander as coach, the Black Caps managed 49 wins, with 25 losses and four no-results. A winning percentage of over 62%. So why does it seem so much worse?

Perhaps it’s the outrageous theories and reasons he tends to come up with in defeats, including allegations of devious groundsmen? Or just refusing to accept that plans such as the rotation policy and the promotion of Brendon McCullum to open the batting failed? The rotation policy, or “Operation Screwloose” as one New Zealand cricket journalist labelled it, not only failed but did so astonishingly spectacularly. The most memorable moment of it is surely the unforgettable 73 all out against Sri Lanka at Eden Park.

To be fair though, the Bracewell-coached New Zealand has had a few moments which are memorable for the right reasons too. Such things include the 4-1 ODI series win against South Africa at home, the NatWest triangular series win in England, the triangular series victory over India in Zimbabwe, and most recently the 3-0 win in the Chappell-Hadlee Series against an Australian team which included a number of the team’s top performers in its subsequent World Cup victory including Matthew Hayden, Shaun Tait, Nathan Bracken and Glenn McGrath.

But with another ‘close…but not quite’ result in the World Cup, there is a risk that Bracewell will be remembered for the bad things such as his occasionally truly bizarre comments to the media (including one press conference in which his answer to almost every question was “you’ll have to ask the players”), the nightmare home series against Australia which saw such bowlers as Lance Hamilton, Tama Canning and Jeff Wilson play starring roles in the worst way imaginable, and truly disappointing results such as the 4-0 Test series loss in England and a number of disappointing results in tours of South Africa and Australia.

Much like his relationship with the media, Bracewell’s time as New Zealand coach could be described as erratic. But looking only at the results, he has done a much more reasonable job than one would expect through gut feeling. We can only hope that if he is granted another term he makes the feeling in the collective gut of New Zealand supporters a much happier one than he has in his first term.

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