I intended to write this post on September 12, when it was exactly two years since Daniel Vettori assumed the test captaincy of the Black Caps. Unfortunately a very good friend’s 30th birthday party was on September 11th, which proved catastrophic to my ability to get this done (though I did manage to drive to Hamilton and watch the All Blacks lose live in person for the first time this decade, completing a trifecta First Four* of live losses which involved Auckland Grammar, The Warriors and the Auckland NPC team – I think the latter are just called ‘Auckland’, which might be amazing or rubbish, I can’t tell at this point).
Anyway, I’d been planning this post for a while is what I’m trying to say, and now I’m sitting here with a glass of The Macallan (pictured) and I’m gonna write it, goddamn it. Because, I guess, I feel cheated. I came of age as a test cricket fan later than most, in the late ’90s to early ’00s, when, astoundingly, we had a team worth shouting about. I think it began with that monumental series win in England, when Dion Nash became the first cricketer to take 10 wickets and score a 50 in the same match at Lords. It might be an obscure and slightly weird record, but it’s ours, you know?
In that era we beat India at home, lost narrowly to South Africa at home and India away, smashed the Windies at home, tied a series with Pakistan on more than one occasion, drew with England at home and India, Australia and Sri Lanka away… There are a few series I’ve ignored in there, mostly in South Africa and Australia. But for this incredible six or seven year period, we became a competitive test side. And I was in love.
Because, well, little old New Zealand was beating up – or at least drawing up – on these impossibly imposing foes! How did it happen? I picked one team at random (test no. 1573), thinking it’d be a typical New Zealand grab bag of trash’n’treasure, a few gems and some stinkers – that fleamarket vibe which is (mostly) our cricketing lot. Instead I saw this:
I might be a bit drunk, but that is a fantastic cricket team. Sure Vincent (test av. 34) and Sinclair (test av. 32) are a bit iffy. But the rest is very high quality. When I say high quality, though, there’s the implied silent caveat ‘by New Zealand standards’. Were such a side to turn out for Australia you’d say awful. Maybe four of those guys (Bond, Cairns, Vettori and Richardson?) would make their very poor current side. And they’d be contentious. But for New Zealand? That’s one of the all time ten best sides we’ve ever fielded, no question
All of which is an extremely long-winded way of introducing the matter at hand. In the last two years New Zealand has played 21 test matches. I began to wax nostalgic about how much more test cricket we played back in the day, but then checked the total we played in 1998 and 1999, and it was 20. So we haven’t played a bunch of test cricket in a long time. What has changed is how well we’ve played it. We won eight of those 20 matches a decade ago, and drew seven, while losing only five.
The last two years? four wins, six draws and ELEVEN losses. We have slipped, and terribly. Test cricket, which at the time seemed so vital, now seems vaguely quaint (at least in terms of the esteem with which it’s held this country). And to my mind, most of that can be put down to that curmudgeonly philistine John Bracewell’s emphasis on the now-irrelevant (seriously, they will not play any 50 over cricket in English county cricket next year) ODI form of the game. He was utterly disinterested in test cricket, and it showed through brutally in our performances under his ruinous reign. But ultimately the players have to take some of the blame.
Here, then, is the complete list of the batting statistics of those who have dressed in white and gone out to bat for New Zealand under the captaincy of Daniel Vettori. I should warn in advance, it ain’t pretty.
In order of averages, with the figures running matches/total runs scored/average since Sept 07:
1. Jesse Ryder 11/898/49.9
2. Stephen Fleming 7/552/46.1
3. Daniel Vettori 21/1242/42.8
4. Ross Taylor 19/1343/39.5
5. Daniel Flynn 13/627/33
6. Brendon McCullum 21/1126/31.3
7. Jacob Oram 11/559/31.1
8. Matthew Bell 5/245/30.6
9. Tim MacIntosh 7/338/28.2
10. Martin Guptill 5/241/26.8
11. Jamie How 13/641/25.6
12. Aaron Redmond 7/299/23
13. Craig Cumming 4/114/22.8
14. Peter Fulton 3/87/21.8
15. James Franklin 5/139/19.9
16. Lou Vincent 1/37/18.5
17. Tim Southee 5/127/18.4
18. Matthew Sinclair 5/147/18.3
19. Scott Styris 2/59/14.8
20. Gareth Hopkins 1/27/13.5
21. Jeetan Patel 8/104/10.4
22. Grant Elliott 3/27/6.8
23. Iain O’Brien 17/142/17.5
24. Mark Gillespie 3/25/6.3
25. Michael Papps 2/ 17/4.3
26. Chris Martin 17/30.2.5
27. Shane Bond 1/1/1
So many amazing stats, right? My favourite is at the bottom: Shane Bond covertly sending the emergency number to us with his last test before our monstrous slump. You got to admire his dedication to the gag. But Papps above him? Here’s a tip: If you don’t get more runs in four innings than Chris Martin gets in his entire career, you’re shit at batting. Memo to the following: Grant Elliott; Matthew Sinclair; Peter Fulton; Craig Cumming; Aaron Redmond; Jamie How; Martin Guptill – if you’re never selected for New Zealand again, this list should tell you why.
More depressingly, we’ve had no batsmen average over 50 (though Jesse did until his last innings prior to this list) and only four over 35, while only two batsmen (one of whom is a bowler) have accumulated more than 1,000 runs in the period. In two years, 27 cricketers have worn white for New Zealand, and only eight have come out of the experience with an average of over 30! One of those scraping into that category is Brendon McCullum, who must be the most overrated cricketer in the world.
These guys are batting on infinitely superior home wickets than those our Black Caps of the late ’90s strode out on, but continue to fail to deliver runs of any real consequence. Seriously, I went to ‘the toilet’ just now and read about a dude who’s in Australian Idol and has lost more than the weight of John Afoa since he was a teenager!
Dude’s a lot more inspiring than anything we’ve conjured up in the last couple of years. When I was watching Monty’s incredible test saving innings against Australia a few months back it made me recall the legendary heroics of Greatbatch against Australia in 1989. Greatbatch gained nothing from the feat. He just didn’t want to get out, so dug in and drove them wild. Outside of Dan I don’t see a single guy in the current side with that kind of temperament. McCullum’s latest attempt to visit untold indignities upon the game is only the most recent sign that the current crop lack the spine of the one just passed.
Because, for all the ludicrousness of the situation, Monty saved that game. And the draw he procured ultimately handed the Ashes to England. When the histories are written they might point to the heroics of Broad, Trott, Strauss or Flintoff in the test wins as pivotal moments. But in truth it all came down to a grinning non-batsman who decided that he wouldn’t willingly concede his wicket. On that small molehill a mountain was built. That’s what sport is – a thousand tiny actions becoming something far greater.
So it seems a terrible shame that the current Black Caps, with a few notable exceptions (I’ll name them: Vettori, Martin, Ryder and Taylor) seem to take such a narrow view of the game that they don’t see the monumental triumphs that occasionally await those who doggedly resist the tide.
– Duncan Greive
* I looked this up after realising I had heard of a Trifecta and a Quinella, but not a quad____. Turns out it’s called a ‘first four‘. That’s maybe the biggest letdown I’ve ever had in googling, which includes looking for Scarlett Johansson’s boobs in The Killing Game at Bill Simmon’s behest.