‘I hope Twenty20 will only be part of the landscape and not the future of the game. I personally love the more traditional forms of the game that are Test cricket and one-day cricket’ Daniel Vettori, Twenty20 World Cup September 2007.
So put yourself in Daniel Vettori’s shoes this morning. How are you feeling? A touch nervous, surely, with the Test not far away. A little apprehensive, perhaps, given the callow nature of your top six. Unprepared, too, I should imagine since the injury to your spinning finger has necessitated a spell on the sidelines and has meant that you haven’t completed a game on tour so far. Mind you, if you had been on the plane with the rest of your team you might have got a few more overs under your belt. Funny how things work out, eh?
It’s been a low-key start to the tour, hasn’t it? To say that your team has flown under the radar so far on this tour would be to exaggerate the interest. Well, you’ll be used to that, I suppose; you’ve always rather revelled in your underdog status. Not that the lack of interest has been a bad thing. It’s meant precious little comment on your decision to play for the Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League instead of braving the first two chilly weeks of May in England.
Not just you, of course, but your vice-captain, too, and three other senior players. About half your Test team, in other words. A little odd that, don’t you think? How do the rest of your boys feel? Jealousy is never a good thing in a team sport. Still, it’s good to know that you’re a bit more enthusiastic about Twenty20 now than you were during its inaugural World Cup.
Can you imagine the hoo-hah if England’s captain had not arrived with his team. Five years ago, you might remember, Nasser Hussain was criticised for not travelling on the same plane with his team to Australia. But he went to Australia early so that his child would be born in Australia and by doing so made sure that he didn’t miss any cricket. Other than that, it is hard to recall any other recent examples of a captain travelling separately from his team. The end of amateurism was supposed to put a stop to all that. Maybe you’d like to walk out onto the ground this morning from a different entrance, too.
Now I know that John Bracewell pretty much runs the show off the field but you’ll have wanted to give the boys a final few words before today’s game. What did you say, I wonder? You’re too bright and too articulate to talk in the usual cricketing clichés, but even so it’s not as though you could have said ‘we’re all in this together, boys’ with a straight face. At some point over the last couple of days you’ll have wanted to look your team-mates in the eye and tell them what you expect. Did you secretly feel a little embarrassed? For whilst that authority and respect springs from many sources- ability as a player, tactical nous, wise judgement, honesty- it also often comes from the fact that a captain shouldn’t ask his players to do anything he isn’t prepared to do. Like turn up on time.
You’ll know, as your predecessor Stephen Fleming did, how important the captain is to the team. You’ll be its first public face this morning when you come out for the toss all neat and tidy in your blazer (as long as you don’t forget it as you did this winter on two occasions). It will be you, not Bracers, who makes decisions on the field according to the pattern of the game and the mood of your bowlers. It will be you who must rally the team if things start to go wrong. The bond between the captain and his players is at the heart of every good or bad team.
Obviously, the opening two weeks of the tour didn’t strike you as very important. Other captains of the past wouldn’t agree. Ian Chappell thought the early weeks of a tour a crucial time, particularly if you had a bunch of young, inexperienced players. It is a time to bond, (sorry about the cliché) and to develop friendships and understandings; a time when as captain you find out how certain players tick.
Chappell used to say that his door was always open should any player need to get anything off his chest. Now I know the miracle of Skype means that you can have a face-to-face chat with a player from thousands of miles away, but I’m not sure that was the type of pastoral care that Chappell was talking about.
Those advantages which accrue from being together from the start are hard to quantify. But there would have been obvious practical advantages, too, for you and the other four. Is Kyle Mills completely happy with the Duke ball after just one outing on tour? Has Ross Taylor (26 runs from four first-class knocks) come to terms with English conditions, yet?
I wanted, if I may, to draw you attention to something else you said a while back. Reflecting on you decision to miss the first two weeks you said this: ‘‘I’m not really worried about how it looks. I’m worried about how it affects the team and the dynamic. I know it’ll be a huge opportunity for some young guys to be assimilated into a New Zealand side. Like I’ve said a couple of times, we go away on most tours and don’t have any warm-up games. I don’t think we can say that we all need to turn up all on the same day because that’s the way it’s supposed to be, because we don’t do it on any other tour.’ Sorry to be awkward, but your team have played warm up matches on virtually every tour you’ve been on. In South Africa, last time, for example, you won your first warm-up match, lost the second before getting pulverised in the first Test. After that defeat, Justin Vaughan, your boss, said that ‘ a lack of cricket left us cruelly exposed’. Given that you are ranked 7th in the world and are notoriously poor travellers don’t you think you might have wanted as much prep as possible in England?
Obviously, your decision to miss the start of the tour in favour of a format of the game you previously didn’t show much enthusiasm for, reflects the changing nature of the cricketing landscape. Not long ago, an England tour would have been the summit of a New Zealand cricketer’s ambition. Not any more, it seems. You had Justin Vaughan, your CEO, over a barrel, didn’t you? You left the decision to him, but really you knew that pragmatism dictated that he couldn’t prevent you from going. He knows, as you do, that it is the only way of preventing more players joining the ICL and being lost to New Zealand for good.
The captaincy of your country is like a nice cake, don’t you think? There are the trimmings and the icing on top- the fat contracts, the acclaim when things go well, the public profile- but there’s a lot of effort that’s needed to go into making it work. Whilst everyone else can just turn up and enjoy the finished product, the chef is responsible for making it edible. Responsibility. It’s a key word, wouldn’t you say? All that extra time in the kitchen that nobody else sees.
Like most people in the game, I’m delighted that cricketers are finally getting some decent financial reward, honestly I am. But invalidating prior contracts and ignoring agreements has been one of the less edifying sights of this rupee-fuelled frenzy. You didn’t have to accept the captaincy of your country, just as New Zealand didn’t have to accept to play four warm-up matches. But to accept and then turn up with just over half a team is downright rude. Clearly, in this new world, old-fashioned manners count for little. Good luck this morning.