11 August 2013

NZC provincial contracts 2013/14

A few weeks ago I wrote about the national contracts issued by New Zealand Cricket for their top 20 players - the players NZC believes will be featuring most in the national side in the coming cricket year. Now the New Zealand provincial contracts have been issued, with 14 contracts being offered by each of the six provinces. These contracts provide an income (admittedly rather leaner than an international contract) for a further 84 players, making 104 contracted male cricketers in New Zealand.

What's striking when looking at the list - apart from the prevalence of Cachopa brothers, that is - is how many of the provincial contracted players have international experience. A majority of Wellington's contracted players (8) have played an international match for New Zealand, while six out of Canterbury's 14 players have been internationals. The remainder have five (Otago), four (Auckland and Central Districts), and three (Northern Districts). Naturally each province's roster will be augmented by those players with national contracts, but they're generally not available for provincial duty for the full summer due to national team commitments. Still, that's a lot of players that have been tried and discarded by the selectors, particularly in a country with such a small talent base to work with.

Of the 84 provincially contracted players, 30 (35 percent) have played for New Zealand. (And one, Wellington wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi, has played for Australia before qualifying to play here). With the national contracted players, that makes a total of 50 internationals, or 51 including the uncontracted Daniel Vettori.  In a country of this size, that's quite mad! (For the full list, see here).

Part of the explanation is the rise of T20 cricket, which creates more opportunities for players to represent their country, and often requires players with different skill sets. But it is notable that of the 30 internationals in the provinces, only one - Auckland spinner Roneel Hira - has been selected solely for T20Is. It just feels like New Zealand selectors have been trying and discarding players more frequently of late, and coupled with the increased number of international matches, this has meant that New Zealand caps are far less exclusive than they used to be.

I decided to examine whether or not this was an accurate representation of the state of New Zealand cricket - are caps being flung around to random linesmen and the dudes running the hotdog stands at our cricket grounds, in the faint hope that one of them might prove to be of international standard? It certainly seems like that when you consider the number of test openers New Zealand has churned through in recent years. (I still think Tim McIntosh should be opening in tests with Aaron Redmond, but does anyone listen to me?). However, it turns out that the churn rate isn't quite as high as I suspected, although it has increased for ODI caps in the past few years. Here's a table showing the rate of new New Zealand international caps being dished out for each of the three formats; the figures indicate the rate of caps per match.

Decade Test ODI T20
1930s 2.36 x x
1940s 2.83 x x
1950s 1.16 x x
1960s 0.79 x x
1970s 0.61 1.80 x
1980s 0.39 0.24 x
1990s 0.49 0.25 x
2000s 0.46 0.19 1.40
2010s 0.50 0.32 0.51

The rates show a fairly consistent pattern of initial high rates as NZC discovers which players fit the format, then settling down to a rate of one new test cap every two tests and perhaps one new ODI cap every four matches.  The T20 rate has yet to settle down to ODI levels, but it's still a relatively new game.

It's encouraging to see that the provincial game can produce talented players like Kane Williamson, who will hopefully go on to a long career in all three formats of the game (if the ICC persists with all three, that is). And by the looks of it, the test side seems to be relatively stable and consistent, with the rate of new caps handed out matching a long-held pattern since the 1970s. NZC will need to work to build a core of ODI players to rely upon rather than spraying caps around, but it is hoped that amongst the current crop of nationally-contracted players there should be sufficient talent. One benefit of sticking with the players you've got is that they build their experience through playing. Lastly, although T20Is are still a novelty, with some regarding them as a joke format, it's still important for New Zealand to do well in the matches, and building a lasting team without constant personnel changes would be one good way of starting.
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