If you don’t follow cricket then this won’t mean a lot to you, and if you don’t follow New Zealand cricket (most people would fit into this category) then you won’t really care, but I thought it might be timely to summarise the goings-on of the last week with five pertinent questions that have yet to be answered.
Should Ross Taylor have been stripped of the captaincy?
This one is difficult to answer unless you are able to see all aspects of Taylor’s performance as captain, off-field as well as on. I have to admit I was in the camp that supported McCullum as the best candidate to replace Daniel Vettori when Vettori stepped down as captain. I still think McCullum would provide the best style of leadership for this particular team. Taylor has been in charge long enough for the coach to be able to make a judgement on whether he is the right man for the job going forward. All things being equal, and as long as personal issues don’t come into it, Mike Hesson is within his rights to recommend a change of leadership.
If a change of captaincy was the right call, was the timing right?
This is where things start going wrong, and fast. Let’s be honest, changing your captain is a big decision. Assuming that team coach Mike Hesson thought long and hard about his recommendation to strip Taylor of the captaincy, wouldn’t he have also thought about the best time to do this? Common sense dictates that this discussion should have taken place either directly after the tour of the West Indies, or after the Sri Lankan tour. Instead, Hesson spoke to Taylor in a meeting on tour in Sri Lanka, directly before the first Test. Hesson claims he spoke of recommending that Taylor stay on as Test captain only. Taylor has a different memory of that meeting, stating that Hesson told him he would be stripped of captaincy in all three forms of the game, including Test matches.
The whole feel of this meeting is one of an ambush. Whether that was the case or not doesn’t really matter now – what looks like an ambush and smells like an ambush is going to be perceived as, well, an ambush. The fact that Taylor managed to score over 200 runs in the second Test and lead the team to a face-saving victory says a lot for his character, knowing that it would most likely be his last match in charge of his country.
Who should take responsibility for the handling of this matter?
New Zealand Cricket must take responsibility for the mire they have created. Every aspect of their handling of this issue has been an unmitigated PR disaster. It wasn’t as if New Zealand Cricket stood as a shining light of public goodwill as it was – the sport needed this like a kick in the head. The New Zealand Cricket Board accepted Hesson’s recommendation without hesitation, without ever questioning the timing. NZC’s Chief Executive, David White, wasn’t even in the country at the time. How can such an important decision be made when the protagonists are spread halfway around the world? White and the board are, of course, backing Hesson’s version of events in regard to what was said in the meeting in Sri Lanka. Hesson’s claim that he offered Taylor the Test captaincy seems dubious to me – one would think Taylor would remember a detail like that! Taylor has spoken out more in the last few days than he ever has as NZ captain, and fair enough. He is entitled to present his side of the story, especially when the Board and White are doing their best to smooth ruffled feathers…or denying they should have been ruffled in the first place.
No one in New Zealand Cricket is prepared to put their head on the block for this, and this isn’t likely to change. Everyone is looking after their own interests. No surprise there. The only one who is likely to be shown the door is John Buchanan, the Director of Cricket, who is conspicuously the only member of New Zealand Cricket who has publicly backed Taylor.
Should Ross Taylor go with the team to South Africa?
Well, he isn’t going, so this is a bit of a moot point. In my opinion however, he should go. The biggest disappointment of this whole sad affair (and yes it is only a disappointment, not a tragedy as has been said – nobody died, people!) is that the New Zealand team will be missing their best player on what is arguably the toughest tour in world cricket. New Zealand is ranked eighth in Test Cricket and ninth in One Day Internationals. Even in the hit and giggle of T-20, we are a lowly eighth. South Africa is deservedly the number one team in Test Cricket, the pinnacle of the game. With our best team, we would still struggle. That team would include Daniel Vettori and Jesse Ryder (both missing) along with Taylor, so the cupboard is really starting to look bare. One can only hope there are no injuries to key players on tour ( this means you, McCullum!).
You get the feeling that Taylor would have gone if things had been handled better. It appears that his relationship with Hesson has deteriorated so much that he cannot focus on his role as a member of the team while Hesson is in charge. Taylor has intimated that he is keen to return to the side, possibly for the home series against England early next year. The question has to be asked – what is likely to change between now and then that makes Taylor think that his relationship with Hesson will be any better?
Is McCullum the right man for the job?
Which brings us to the brave new world of a McCullum-led New Zealand cricket team. This is certainly how things have been portrayed by the media in New Zealand, as if Taylor and McCullum are chalk and cheese. Whether this is the case remains to be seen. Yes, McCullum appears to be a much more obvious on-field captain, vocal and forthright. It has been suggested that as a tactician he is more of a gambler, but this theory needs to be tested in the high-pressure world of Test cricket, something McCullum hasn’t experienced as captain. Personally, I feel McCullum has a great opportunity to show his class on this tour. He has never lived up to his enormous potential as a player, what better opportunity to inspire than from the front against the best team in the world. If he can do this as a leader and a batsman, he may drag some of the others with him. If he does lift the perfomance of the other batsmen, he will have achieved something that Taylor never did.
Realistically, we will beaten by South Africa. This isn’t defeatist, it’s just the way it is. New Zealand has never won a series in South Africa, it is unlikely they will change that statistic from where they stand. Barring disastrous form, McCullum will be given another shot at captaincy for the England series early next year. Anything else would be an admission of error from the Board in ratifying Hesson’s recommendation in appointing him. Hesson is another matter. Heavy losses in the next two series would lead to serious finger pointing. If the captain changes and the results don’t, who is next to go? The coach, of course. The public is already baying for blood – if New Zealand Cricket need another scapegoat to keep the wolves at bay, Hesson will quite possibly be sacrificed. Enter Taylor back into the fold…?
These are all important questions, and we will get answers to at least some of them over the next few months. Unfortunately it is hard to foresee an improvement to the game in New Zealand in the near future unless there is a concerted attempt by all to work for the greater good of the game. Without this, the sport will continue to falter and support for cricket will continue to dwindle.
Surely cricket lovers in this country deserve better than that.