Criticism of Hesson, Larsen and Williamson too hasty as New Zealand face difficult rebuilding job

Colin Munro sees his bat break as Australia beat Kane Williamson and New Zealand in the first Chappell Hadlee ODINew Zealand’s rise in stature as a one day side can be roughly traced back to the appointment of Mike Hesson as coach in July 2012 and Bruce Edgar as chief selector in 2013. One of Hesson’s initial moves was to make Brendon McCullum captain of New Zealand and, while he undoubtedly mishandled the dismissal of Ross Taylor at the time, this decision was the beginning of the country becoming a white ball force. In the next few years New Zealand would find themselves winning series’ in South Africa, England and the UAE against Pakistan, as well as going six series unbeaten at home including two wins against Australia. But the most incredible achievement was reaching the World Cup final in 2015.

Fast forward to December 2016 and, with Edgar and McCullum gone, New Zealand find themselves on the receiving end of two poor displays in India and Australia. Hesson, Gavin Larsen (who replaced Edgar following his decision to stand down following the World Cup) and newly appointed captain Kane Williamson are already finding themselves under pressure. On the face of it the criticism does feel faintly ridiculous, it was only February this year that New Zealand beat Australia in a three-match series at home. But that was MuCullum’s farewell and miserable performances since, which have seen the side collapse from 63-3 to 79 all out in Vizag and be comfortably whitewashed by Australia, does create an understandable feeling of concern surrounding the team’s direction. There is much work to be done on the New Zealand one day team looking ahead to the Champions Trophy next year. However, how far can these results be purely put down to Williamson, Hesson and Larsen? The amount of change over the last 12 months meant this situation was largely inevitable. Larsen has not been given the chance to select a stable side and Williamson has had the unenviable task of captaining a team in Australia with only one batsman, apart from himself, that he could rely on in Martin Guptill.

Looking at selection, Hesson and Edgar oversaw a significant period of transition in the side between 2012 and early 2013. Jacob Oram and James Franklin, with a combined total of 270 ODI caps were moved out the team and Trent Boult, Mitch McClenaghan, Adam Milne, Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham, Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi were all given their debuts between the north hemisphere summers of 2012 and 2013. Of these selections Munro has been inconsistent, Neesham and Milne have struggled to establish themselves due to injuries, but overall some very useful players emerged in this early period. The call-up of Ronchi, who became available following his decision to represent the country of his birth, allowed McCullum to be freed of wicketkeeping duties and brought the best out of the new captain. Hesson and Edgar’s feat of establishing these new players quickly and building a side with consistent selection was one of the key factors behind New Zealand’s ascent to the 2015 world cup final. The fact that from 31 January 2014 – when Matt Henry made his first ODI appearance – to 9 June 2015 – Mitchell Santner’s first cap – there were no new debutants in one day cricket for New Zealand demonstrates this consistency.

The turnover in the New Zealand side since the World Cup has made for a stark contrast. Brendon McCullum signed off his remarkable international career with the fastest Test century, against Australia, in Christchurch, in February this year and allrounders Nathan McCullum and Grant Elliot retired from ODIs after the World T20. While N McCullum and Elliot were not the greatest players of their era, they did occupy an important part of the New Zealand ODI squad, leaving two big holes that needed to be patched up by players new to international cricket. Brendon McCullum was of course the biggest loss, his captaincy, and fear factor with the bat gave his side an edge that was never going to be filled easily by a debutant. Luke Ronchi’s increasingly poor batting form has also forced the selectors into making a change to BJ Watling during the India ODI series.

With these gaps beginning to appear in the New Zealand squad the last thing that was needed before this winter’s schedule was a run of injuries to key players. Ross Taylor’s form had dropped off and this was attributed to an eye issue. He managed to hit a century in the 2nd Test against Pakistan but surgery ruled him out against Australia. Colin Munro, who is not the most consistent player, also saw injury rule him out of the India ODIs which further exposed batting frailties. More frustration for New Zealand is the fact that three important bowlers developed injuries which have ruled them out of much of the year. Corey Anderson had a back injury after the World T20 and returned to the ODI side as a specialist batsman in India but since March he has only bowled 15 overs, in the last match against India and in one Plunket Shield game. Two other big misses in the bowling department have been Mitchell McClenaghan and Adam Milne. McClenaghan has had a very unfortunate year with injury, picking up a hairline fracture above his eye after the ball went through the gap in his helmet in January against Pakistan. After just three games in the T20 Blast in England he then suffered a pelvis injury which has meant he has been out of action since July, making his return – in a T20 for Auckland on 4 Dec – too late for the Australia ODIs. Milne’s injury record is not the best and he has not played since suffering a hamstring tear after the first game for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL this year. Milne since had to have surgery on his elbow which ruled him out of the internationals this winter.

With the retirements and injuries New Zealand have been left searching for players meaning that – considering that no debutants were introduced into the side from January 2014 to the Summer of 2015 (6 bilateral series and the World Cup) – there have been debuts for 7 players, and recalls for the likes of Colin de Grandhomme and Anton Devcich since the World Cup. Needing allrounder depth, Andrew Mathieson, Ben Wheeler and George Worker (who has since picked up an injury) were given debuts in the 2015 tours against England and South Africa but have not featured again this year. Devcich and Henry Nicholls have been introduced to try and provide some batting cover but neither have had the impact that would have been hoped for, even if not expected. Two 24 year olds who burst onto the international white ball scene were Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi. Both spinners performed so well in the World T20 and shocked the hosts India but have not yet delivered consistently in the 50 over game. Both have definite promise but Williamson has not been able to rely on them to keep the runs down or pick up regular wickets. The most recent player to come into the international set up was Lockie Ferguson. Forced in by the injuries to bowlers, Ferguson arrived with a bit of hype due to his domestic form and raw pace but, unsurprisingly, struggled against Warner and Smith, taking 1-123 in his two games (and just 17 overs). Colin de Grandhomme also made his first ODI squad since 2012 against Australia due to his impressive debut Test series against Pakistan. Australia made the throwback allrounder look slightly out of his depth.

It is not to say that any of these debutants will not become regular New Zealand players but it is perhaps a case of the standards being set so high for fans that has made poor performances in India and Australia seem so demoralising. The turnaround of players that has been forced on Williamson, Hesson and Larsen is something which New Zealand has not experienced in white ball cricket since Hesson first got the job in 2012. To expect these international rookies to perform to the same standard as the experienced players they have replaced on a consistent basis is unfair, particularly against world class one day teams away from home. The aim now should be to give as much game time as possible to these newcomers before the Champions Trophy. Three ODI’s are scheduled to be played when Bangladesh tour New Zealand, then there is another Chappell-Hadlee series against Australia, followed by a five-match series against South Africa and a tri-series with Ireland and Bangladesh on the eve of the tournament. In this time, Lockie Ferguson needs a chance to establish himself as other bowlers return to fitness and a batting line up needs to be chosen and given time to display its ability (the reintroduction of Ross Taylor and Corey Anderson should help enormously). Overall it would not be surprising if New Zealand were to bounce back from this tough beginning to the winter and go far in the Champions Trophy next June. Guptill and Williamson remain to of the best one day batsmen in the world and with a bit of luck with injuries there should be several seamers to call on who should have success in English conditions. On their day, New Zealand can beat any team in the world, and there have not been many times in the history of cricket where that has been the case.

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