NZ selections show rivals how it’s done
Mike Hesson deserves plenty of credit for team’s success.
Mike Hesson has a spring in his step as he walks across the outfield in his black trainers. With good reason, too. His New Zealand side are flying, having equalled their 12-match home winning streak of last summer, and his selection successes are frequent, using a system that’s the envy of some of his international rivals.
Hesson’s tenure is nearing six years (his contract expires after the 2019 World Cup), which makes him New Zealand’s longest serving coach, outlasting John Bracewell who reigned for just over five.
Since he took over from John Wright in 2012, Hesson’s also picked his team which sounds obvious but is a vexed issue around the world. Australia, for example, have a four-man selection panel chaired by Trevor Hohns, including coach Darren Lehmann, while India’s coach Ravi Shastri is outside their four-man panel. As Hesson notes: ‘‘a few [countries] are looking to change’’.
New Zealand Cricket shifted from independent panel to a two-man set-up – coach and a solitary selector – in 2011. It was the brainchild of John Buchanan, the former Australian coach, then NZC’s director of cricket, and gives the coach right of veto although Hesson insists he’s yet to use it.
‘‘The coach is always under the gun for the performance of the team. If you don’t have the team anywhere near what you think it should be, in terms of trying to apply a gameplan, it makes it very difficult,’’ said Hesson, perched on a chair in the Basin Reserve’s Long Room.
There’s a fine art to selecting the right team but Hesson has no doubt this is the way. Knee-jerk reactions to the ‘‘flavour of the month’’ are rare.
As many as 10 ‘spotters’ have their say, filtered through selector Gavin Larsen, before he meets Hesson a fortnight out from a scheduled announcement. NZC’s high performance coach Bob Carter is one spotter, as is talent identification manager Paul Wiseman, the former test offspinner. Domestic match referees Ross Dykes – himself a former chairman of selectors – and Richard Hayward are also canvassed.
The six major association coaches all get their say, too, and their opinions on players can sometimes be split down the middle. Larsen also has to be on guard. ‘‘He understands the coaches who are either promoting their players or some that actually want to keep them.’’
A detailed dossier is formed on every player, and Larsen and the spotters are tasked with watching three or four at a time in domestic cricket and adding to their file. How well do they play off the back foot? How well do they play spin?
‘‘Every player has weaknesses, it’s more a matter of do their strengths outweigh those and can they perform the role better than someone else,’’ Hesson said.
‘‘We haven’t picked people based on one or two performances. We’ve looked at guys over a period of time and how they’ve dealt with ups and downs and pressure moments.
‘‘Once you get a full picture of a player and marry it up with the role
Every player has weaknesses, it’s more a matter of do their strengths outweigh those. Mike Hesson
the team requires then it’s relatively straightforward.’’
The final one or two spots are the toughest and if Hesson and Larsen can’t agree, they reconvene the next day. Captain Kane Williamson is consulted, too, and when it comes to picking the final XI for a match he has a significant say. Again, Hesson insists, they’ve never been deadlocked on a decision.
‘‘It’s always a matter of ‘what do you think you need’ and we throw it around. Often Kane and I sit there and could go either way but we’ve got to commit to one. Neither of them are right or wrong.’’
Let’s talk success stories. There’s been a few, and the Black Caps’ depth appears at an all-time high with the World Cup 18 months away. Test opener Jeet Raval, fast bowler Lockie Ferguson, batsman Henry Nicholls and the two Colins – Munro and de Grandhomme – spring to mind. In the West Indies series George Worker, Todd Astle and Doug Bracewell – back in the ODI side as an allrounder – shone in game one at Whangarei.
One stands out to Hesson, though.
‘‘Colin de Grandhomme is a good story. Not just in white ball but in red ball. We felt in our bowling attack we needed someone who could seam the ball. We had a lot of swing bowlers and some bounce bowlers but we didn’t have anyone who was a genuine seam bowler, and we got found out in overseas conditions in particular. Colin has come in and done exactly what he’s done domestically, that’s one that worked pretty nicely for us,’’ Hesson said.
Having hit the headlines with his bowling, de Grandhomme then took his batting to another stratosphere. A 71-ball test century against West Indies, then just last Tuesday a man of the match 74 not out in Hamilton.
‘‘His decision-making has definitely changed. He used to be a player who was a very good ballstriker but he’d keep trying to increase his intensity. Like, once you hit one or two just keep going till you explode. Certainly he’s matured over time.’’