England was inspired by New Zealand to improve their limited-overs cricket following the 2015 men’s World Cup. England is trying to borrow again from New Zealand in order to revive their Test team.
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This can be seen in Brendon McCullum’s appointment as England’s Test head coach. He captained New Zealand between 2012 and 2016. McCullum’s four-year tenure saw his country climb from eighth to the top of the world rankings. They reached number one in 2021 under Kane Williamson’s successor, who also won the inaugural World Test Championship.
New Zealand has also excelled in limited-overs, reaching the finals at the two previous one-day international World Cups as well as last year’s T20 World Cup.
They managed to do it with just five million people – the smallest of all the 12 Test sides – and a lower annual income than some of the wealthiest English counties like Surrey.
What’s the formula for this? What can England learn from this? These are the five key factors that New Zealand has used to transform from a team struggling in Test nations to a side that excels in all three formats of international rugby.
- Cricket first: Governance
Three prominent New Zealand cricketers were caught smoking marijuana during a 1995 tour to South Africa. Stephen Fleming later admitted that more than half of the team had been involved in smoking marijuana.
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The chaos that followed brought about something that rarely promises major change: A governance review.
13 members made up the old New Zealand Cricket board (NZC), all of which were drawn from six provincial associations in New Zealand and all unpaid. Hood Report suggested a smaller board of administrators paid, who would be the best for the job, and not part-timers chosen by provincial associations. The old board was effectively extinguished by the Hood Report.
- Professionalizing the domestic game
All domestic players in New Zealand were semi-professionals in 2000. Only the national team’s members were professionals, and they had become professionals in 1995. It lowered standards and many players quit the sport because they were not paid enough.
In 2001, the New Zealand Cricket Players Association (NZCPA) was formed. It negotiated a fixed amount of money that would be paid from the board’s revenues to players. This was the start of fully professional domestic cricket in New Zealand.
- Improvement of domestic infrastructure and pitches
NZC has also improved the pay of coaches and players, as well as improving the sport’s infrastructure.
2002-03 saw domestic matches played on 24 grounds. Six provinces were crisscrossing the country and playing at small venues in small cities.
Hesson recalls that “many of these venues didn’t have practice facilities or playing areas that would help develop players.”
NZCPA in 2005 pressed NZC for a “warrant of fitness” – basically, criteria that all domestic cricket grounds had to meet. This was the catalyst for an increase in the quality and quantity of practice facilities and training.
It has also improved the quality of New Zealand’s pitches, which were previously green seamers. This means that batters have little experience building long innings and bowlers very little on flat pitches.
- T20: A more educated attitude
In 2008, the Indian Premier League (IPL), was launched. This allowed players from India, England, and Australia to earn more money from T20 leagues abroad than they could from the international game.
This reality was long ignored by many countries. The IPL was scorned by England until 2015. The IPL was rebuffed by England until 2015. This was a self-destructive policy that led to West Indies picking weaker sides.
South Africa’s international cricket star AB de Villiers retired in 2018. He wanted to play in a mix of major internationals and lucrative T20 tournaments but was unable “pick and choose”, as de Villiers called it.
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New Zealand is perhaps the most successful nation to have adapted to this new reality. Because of their flexible policy, players have been able to skip low-key internationals in order to participate in T20 leagues. This has ensured that they are fully fit for the most important games, barring any injuries. Hesson states that if they tried to restrict players’ participation in leagues, it would have led to players retiring earlier and possibly prioritising IPL cricket over international cricket.
- A culture that values the national team above all else
Ollie Pope was ranked number three at Lord’s before he made his debut. He had never been in the top three of any first-class match. Surrey would have been willing to bat him at number three at the beginning of the season. England did not ask. This is a good example of how countries and international sides do not always work together.
New Zealand has benefited from a more cooperative approach between the domestic and national sides. Hesson, New Zealand’s head coach, occasionally influenced domestic selection in favor of the national side.
Shortly after taking over, he called the Northern Districts coach to inquire if BJ Waling, who was a specialist opener, could keep wicket and bat in middle order. Watling would go on to become New Zealand’s most successful Test wicketkeeper.
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Hesson also requested that Canterbury’s opener Tom Latham be moved to the middle order to keep wicket in one day cricket. This is the same role he would take on in New Zealand’s run for the 2019 World Cup final.