It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been expecting to read an insightful, comprehensive summary of the New Zealand cricket team’s performance in 2009 on the Cricinfo site - the kind Lynn O’Connell used to write for them - but such a story has yet to appear. If a summary article has appeared in the Herald or on Stuff I must have missed it, which is not hard given that their cricket coverage is buried deep within their sport sections. So here’s my attempt at a quick rundown of the international cricket matches New Zealand played in 2009, plus a look at how a few key players performed.
New Zealand’s performance in the test arena this year was poor, with a solitary 32-run victory over Pakistan in Dunedin in November hardly balancing four big losses against India in Hamilton (10 wickets), Sri Lanka in Galle and Colombo (202 and 96 runs) and Pakistan in Wellington (141 runs). Perhaps the fact that all three opponents were from the subcontinent contributed to New Zealand’s poor showing, because New Zealand has long struggled against such teams. At the end of 2009 New Zealand sits a lowly seventh in the test rankings, ahead of only West Indies and Bangladesh – which is a fair reflection of the team’s performance. Even this is something of an improvement on 2008, when New Zealand was in eighth place below West Indies. Not much to celebrate there.
In one-day internationals, traditionally the one area in which NZ competes well, the team struggled to break even. Early in the year they beat West Indies at home 2-1 and proceeded to draw on tour in Australia 2-2, having excited fans by winning the opening two games of the series. But late in the 2008/09 summer weaker form returned when India toured and beat NZ 3-1. Then a quick trip to Sri Lanka saw NZ shut out of a tri-series final with two losses against Sri Lanka and India in September. In the year’s showcase event, the Champions Trophy in South Africa, NZ exceeded expectations by defeating Sri Lanka, England and Pakistan, but faltered in the final against Australia. The year was rounded out with a 2-1 victory over Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. In 2009 New Zealand improved its ODI ranking from fifth to fourth place, and now sits three points above England.
When the new Twenty20 format rapidly gained popularity it was thought (including by me) that New Zealand’s prowess in ODIs would transfer to the 20-over format. Sadly this has yet to occur and New Zealand tends to underperform in T20s. Of New Zealand’s six victories, two were against Scotland and Ireland in the T20 World Cup staged in England, a tournament at which New Zealand failed to reach the semi-finals. On the positive side there was an exciting 1-run loss to Australia in Sydney in February, followed by a couple of at-home victories over India and another pair of victories over Sri Lanka on tour in September.
As can be seen by the list below of all international matches played by New Zealand in 2009, there are so many matches being played in modern cricket that there is little downtime for players, particularly when the recent growth and importance of the IPL is added to the calendar. Only May and July were without international fixtures, and those were prime months for the IPL in South Africa and the County Championship in England.
Daniel Vettori and Ross Taylor were the stand-out batsmen in the test arena, with Vettori accumulating 779 runs at an average of just under 60, including three centuries and three fifties, and Taylor scoring a total of 782 runs at 55.8 with two centuries and four fifties. Jesse Ryder also impressed in the five tests he played before he was injured, scoring 454 runs at 50.4 with two centuries, including 201 against India at Napier, which was the highest test score by a New Zealander in 2009. The tale was less impressive for other test batsmen, with most significantly underperforming, leaving lingering doubts that New Zealand has the right batting mix.
In ODIs the standout batsmen were newcomers Martin Guptill (738 runs at 41.0) and Grant Elliott (507 runs at 42.2). The powerful Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor were the only two batsmen to play all 24 New Zealand ODIs in 2009, but their return for the year was solid rather than inspiring, each averaging in the low 30s. Daniel Vettori performed well with the bat in ODIs, scoring 259 valuable runs at 28.8, often when his top order batsmen had let him down. The highest ODI score of the year was McCullum’s 131 from 129 balls against Pakistan in the 2nd ODI at Abu Dhabi in November.
In T20s McCullum showed the class that largely eluded him in ODIs, scoring 417 runs at 41.7 with a strike-rate of 122. No other NZ batsmen came close to this performance. The top score of the year was Brendon McCullum’s 69 not out from 55 balls against India in Wellington back in February; thanks to this innings, New Zealand won by five wickets.
The test bowling figures were led by two test-only players, one of whom has since retired. Chris Martin and Iain O’Brien both bagged 30 wickets, although Martin’s (average 33.9) were cheaper than O’Brien’s (a rather worrying 40.7). Vettori was another mainstay, taking 27 wickets at 39.0. Shane Bond’s one final test was a glimpse of happier times – he took eight wickets against Pakistan and earned Man of the Match honours in the victory. Significantly, his 107-5 in the second innings of that match was the only five-wicket haul by a New Zealander in 2009.
Kyle Mills was the stand-out ODI bowler, taking 32 wickets at 28.3 and earning himself the top slot on the ODI world bowling rankings. Vettori is in second place with 24 wickets at 28.7, but after him and equal third place-getters Bond and O’Brien (both on 13 wickets) the figures tail off rapidly. Martin Guptill even got three overs at one point. The best bowling performance, fittingly, was by Vettori, who took 10-3-20-4 against West Indies in Wellington in January, a match I enjoyed in person at the Stadium.
In T20s the top wicket-taker was Ian Butler, who returned from a long spell out of the national team – he grabbed 16 wickets at an economy rate of 8.3. Second and third place went to Nathan McCullum and Vettori, both on 9 wickets – McCullum’s at an economy of 6.5 and Vettori’s at a creditable 5.6. The best individual performance was McCullum’s 3-0-15-3 against Ireland at Nottingham.
Brendon McCullum snared 34 test dismissals including one stumping. McCullum has almost caught up with Stephen Fleming as New Zealand’s third-highest number of career fielding dismissals – Fleming has 171 and McCullum is still going on 164. Ross Taylor appeared to have taken over Fleming’s role as a safe pair of hands in the slips, as he was the best non-wicketkeeper, taking 20 test catches in 2009. In ODIs Taylor (22) took more catches than McCullum (20), but bear in mind that Peter McGlashan kept wicket in several matches and took seven catches behind the wicket in his own right. In the T20s it got even more confusing, with McCullum, McGlashan and new batsman BJ Watling all taking catches while engaged in wicketkeeping duties.
Onwards to 2010
The NZ summer of 2010 holds an interesting mix of tours, but most notable is the large gap in fixtures which has seen the entire month of January without an international opponent. In February Bangladesh tour for a single T20, three ODIs and a one-off test. They are followed by the Australians, who tour to play two T20s, five ODIs and only two tests. I’m sure NZ Cricket is hoping for fine weather to bolster the gate takings on what will be a hugely important tour. I’m hoping to be at Eden Park for the second ODI on 6 March, so fingers crossed for plenty of sunshine and a stirring performance by both teams.
In April and May New Zealand will travel to the West Indies for another World Twenty20 tournament, playing Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in the group stages. It seems like such a long way to go for such a short game, but I suppose that’s where the TV money lies. After that the schedule’s in the hands of the necessarily vague Future Tours Programme, which is soon to expire. In June there’s still the already-postponed NZ tour to Zimbabwe to consider, but at this stage it seems most likely that it will not progress. Failing that, the next outing may be another tour of Sri Lanka in June. Haven’t we just been there? Cricket pickings are looking rather slim for the winter period, until the October-November full tours of Bangladesh and India. Perhaps that’s just how the players will like it, so they can pick up some hard currency in the IPL and County Championship.
[Edit, 9 Jan: better late than never, Cricinfo have published a NZ roundup by the excellent Sidharth Monga. It’s entitled, fittingly, ‘Wins, losses, injuries, Vettori’]