New Zealand Cricket

With the recent retirement of Stephen Fleming as New Zealand's highest run scorer, now is a good time to examine the history of "The Black Caps".

Fleming's record is interesting because, although he has managed to score 7172 Test runs, he has done so at the rather lowish average of 40.06. Yet Fleming is one of only a few New Zealand batsmen to average in the 40s. A cursory look at the records table shows that the majority of long-term New Zealand batsmen average in the 30s. Of those who have made 3000 or more runs for New Zealand, only Fleming and Martin Crowe average above 40.

New Zealand's bowling records are dominated by Sir Richard Hadlee, whose 431 wickets at 22.29 dwarf Daniel Vettori's 2nd place figures of 244 wickets at 34.49. In fact, of all the New Zealand bowlers to take 100 or more test wickets, only four - Hadlee, Cairns, Collinge and Taylor - have done so at an average of less than 30.

New Zealand's test history reflects this lack of quality. Only Sri Lanka (5-9), Zimbabwe (0-7) and Bangladesh (0-6) have lost more matches against New Zealand than they have won. Surprisingly, the record between New Zealand and West Indies is almost neck-and-neck, but with West Indies leading 10 victories to New Zealand's 9. Against all other Test nations, however, New Zealand has struggled throughout its history to be competitive.

But why has New Zealand failed to be competitive? Well, for starters, New Zealand is a small nation. There are 4.2 million people in New Zealand today, which means that the playing infrastructure is smaller than most other Test playing nations. Let's compare nation sizes to New Zealand:

England - 60.6 million (population of U.K.)
Australia - 21.3 million
West Indies - 5.75 million (encompasses many island nations)
South Africa - 48.6 million
India - 1120 million
Pakistan - 169.3 million
Sri Lanka - 19.7 million
Zimbabwe - 13 million
Bangladesh - 150.5 million

One way to compare New Zealand cricket is to compare it with an Australian state. The best comparison is therefore Queensland, which has about the same population as New Zealand. So what happens when you compare Queensland cricket to New Zealand cricket?

The first thing to remove from the equation is "imported" Queenslanders. Thus any comparison needs to remove long-term players like Allan Border, Greg Chappell and Kepler Wessels, while also ignoring shorter-term ones like Viv Richards, Graeme Hick and Ian Botham. New Zealand has had its share of imports as well, but these basically include Dipak Patel and Roger Twose, hardly players who set New Zealand cricket on fire.

Let's start with batsmen:

Top 10 NZ batsmen (runs scored)
SP Fleming 7172 @ 40.06
MD Crowe 5444 @ 45.36
JG Wright 5334 @ 37.82
NJ Astle 4702 @ 37.02
BE Congdon 3448 @ 32.22
JR Reid 3428 @ 33.28
CL Cairns 3320 @ 33.53
Sir RJ Hadlee 3124 @ 27.16
CD McMillan 3116 @ 38.46
GM Turner 2991 @ 44.64

Top Queensland batsmen (runs scored)
ML Hayden 8242 @ 53.51
IA Healy 4356 @ 27.39
PJP Burge 2290 @ 38.16
GM Ritchie 1690 @ 35.20
KD Mackay 1507 @ 33.48
A Symonds 1031 @ 41.24
* S Law

As you can see, NZ has not produced any batsman that averages over 50 while Queensland, with Matthew Hayden, has. However, it is important also to note that, apart from Hayden, Queensland have not produced any other top-class bastman. Symonds may end up scoring more runs at a good average as time goes by, but that's a work in progress.

One name that I placed on the list is that of Stuart Law. Just as people will always be left wondering how far Martin Crowe could have gone had he not been subject to injury, people will also wonder how many runs Stuart Law could have scored had he been a regular in the Australian side.

The reason why there aren't too many Queenslanders on that list is simple - those who didn't perform (and there were many) were eventually dropped for a player from another state. The best the state had to offer in its history, apart from Hayden, was Burge, Ritchie and "Slasher" Mackay - players who, on statistics alone, are about the same quality as those who played for New Zealand.

Of course there is another name that could be put on the Queensland list - Martin Love. Again, who knows how many runs he could've scored if given the chance?

Given these differing variables, it is probably correct to say that New Zealand has produced batsmen of around the same quality as those produced by Queensland. Now, what about bowlers?

Top 10 NZ Bowlers (wickets taken)
Sir RJ Hadlee 431 @ 22.29
DL Vettori 244 @ 34.49
CL Cairns 218 @ 29.40
DK Morrison 160 @ 34.68
CS Martin 136 @ 32.66
BL Cairns 130 @ 32.92
EJ Chatfield 123 @ 32.17
RO Collinge 116 @ 29.25
BR Taylor 111 @ 26.60
JG Bracewell 102 @ 35.81

Top Queensland bowlers (wickets taken)
CJ McDermott 291 @ 28.63
MS Kasprowicz 113 @ 32.88
G Dymock 78 @ 27.12
AJ Bichel 58 @ 32.24
CG Rackemann 39 @ 29.15

Hadlee dominates, of course. No Queensland bowler has ever had a Test cricket career even nearly as good as Hadlee. McDermott is Queensland's most successful Test bowler, but you can quite easily compare his figures to those of CL Cairns, Collinge and Taylor. Kasprowicz is Queensland's second most successful bowler, yet his career can be compared to that of Chatfield and Morrison.

So, when we compare these two places, what do we see?

1. One world-class player in each.
2. Three batsmen averaging in the 40s or above in each.
3. Three bowlers averaging below 30 in each.

In other words, Queensland and New Zealand are probably comparable in terms of the quality of players they have produced throughout history. However, there are some major differences:

1. Cricket in New Zealand is best played in a 4 month "window" in Summertime. Cricket in Queensland can be played at any time of the year.
2. Sport in New Zealand is dominated by Rugby Union, whose season encompasses 10 months of the year. Queenslanders love their winter sport, but are not dominated by any single code.
3. New Zealand has six first class teams drawing players from a population of 4.2 million. Queensland has the same population, but has only one first class team.

Given these drawbacks, the only reasonable conclusion to come to is that New Zealand has done very well in producing the players that it has, and that it is probably better in nurturing talent than Queensland, and is able to get the most out of the players they have.

In short, New Zealand may never produce a world-class Test team, but what it has produced throughout its history is pretty good, especially when taking into account its small population and other drawbacks.

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