cricket / long form

Kiwi contracts not testing enough

* This post was originally published on Backward Point, after the release of the 2012 NZC list of central contracts.

The message being sent by NZC to the cricketers of New Zealand is very clear.
Get good at the shortest form if you want a central contract. The list released
today shows a strong bias against potential Test players, in favour of some
baffling selections that only make sense if you consider the upcoming T20 World
Cup.

There are some notable inclusions on the central contract list that reflect this
T20 bias. Firstly, there is Jacob Oram. He was once one of the great blasters of
world cricket, and could send down very decent medium pace. He is, however,
getting on well beyond his shelf-life, and the T20 World Cup (if his body holds
together) will surely be his swansong. Why award a central contract to a fellow
with one tournament left in him? Why not instead let him finish his career
making serious money as a T20 freelancer? There is Rob Nicol, who has some
talent at domestic level, but has been a serious failure at international level,
unless the opposition was Zimbabwe. His Test innings against South Africa were
torturous to watch. Andrew Ellis is a third head scratcher, he doesn’t seem to
offer much with bat or ball, but is the sort of bits and pieces player who can often
find room in a T20 side.

As well as this, two bowlers who may well be bowling for the Black Caps in Tests
this season have been left off. Mark Gillespie, who is in fairness prone to injury
and 32, has been omitted in what must feel like a very cruel decision. This was
a man who restored the dignity of the Black Caps with some combative quick
bowling against South Africa, picking up 11 wickets in two Tests. Neil Wagner,
who has been the standout bowler on the domestic first class scene for a few
seasons, was also left out. He has recently become eligible for New Zealand,
which possibly counted against him getting a contract this season. However,
there is little doubt he will soon be part of the Test setup. Why exclude him now?
It doesn’t make any sense.

The rest of the list is fairly straightforward, and there are few other surprises.
Tom Latham was rightly overlooked. He will get a surely get a domestic contract,
and is probably a few years away from achieving the consistency needed for
international cricket. Ryder was also left out, apparently by mutual agreement.
This too seems fair enough. Jeetan Patel and Luke Woodcock have also been left
out, but the Black Caps are unlikely to suffer from this. The spinning stocks are
well served by Tarun Nethula, Nathan McCullum, and of course Dan Vettori.

Overall though I would question the wisdom of this contract list. The selection
rational is meant to favour Tests most heavily, and this does not appear to be
the case this season. If the Black Caps are ever going to rise back up the test
rankings, they need to stop treating test matches as an aside to lucrative limited
overs series. We desperately need more players who are fully committed to
the craft of Test cricket. The central contract list is one way in which NZC can
promote this ethos, by paying players enough that they do not need to worry
about short form skills. NZC has missed a trick here though, and I would expect
the team’s results in tests over the next season to reflect this.

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