It's true, you never quite know what you're going to get from New Zealand Cricket (NZC), and neither do the players. NZC have recently released their list of contracted players for the 2012/2013 season. Each year cricketers eligible to play for New Zealand are ranked by NZC, and the top 20 ranked players are awarded contracts for the season. The value of the contracts varies from $181,000 plus match payments for the top ranked player down to $73,000 plus fees for the 20th ranked player. The actual rankings remain a secret, but it is likely that the captain, Ross Taylor, will be somewhere near the top of the list.
This year the contracted players are: Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Dean Brownlie, Andrew Ellis, Daniel Flynn, James Franklin, Martin Guptill, Chris Martin, Brendon McCullum, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Tarun Nethula, Rob Nicol, Jacob Oram, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Kruger van Wyk, Daniel Vettori, BJ Watling and Kane Williamson.
The list has a fairly predictable sameness about it, which is a reflection of our relatively limited pool of top class players. Most of the contracted players have pretty much selected themselves, but as always the list has raised a few eyebrows, especially in the bowling stakes. Some commentators have wondered about the inclusion of Doug Bracewell at the expense of Mark Gillespie, but for me this is a sensible decision. Both have only played a handful of tests but Bracewell is younger, has a better record, and seems to be less injury prone. Injuries or personal reasons have ruled out a few other high profile players who would otherwise likely have made the cut, notably Jesse Ryder and Hamish Bennett. There has also been some surprise at the omission of Neil Wagner, but he has only just become eligible to play for New Zealand. He has been included in the team to tour the West Indies, and if his international performances live up to the promise of his domestic record he is almost certain to be offered a contract in seasons to come, but I have no issue with NZC not offering a contract to a player untested at international level.
But other contracts around the fringes are a bit more questionable. I remain unconvinced with Andrew Ellis and Rob Nicoll, and Jacob Oram, as fine a servant as he has been, must be nearing the end of his international career, especially in light of recent injuries. The problem, as always, is who to replace these players with if they were to be omitted. Andy McKay and Brent Arnell haven't really impressed when given a chance, and other bowlers on the domestic scene don't appear to offer more than the contracted players. At least Ellis and Nicoll are all-rounders, so if they have a bad day with the ball there is always a chance they can contribute at the batting crease, and vice versa.
Certainly the list of contracted players has a strong limited overs feel about it, which is hardly surprising given the Twenty20 World Cup to be played in Sri Lanka starting in September. For me tests are still the pinnacle of the cricketing world, and in a season where we have a lot of test matches coming up I'm not sure that such a strong focus on limited overs cricket is in the best interests of the team's future. T20 and One-dayers are good money spinners, but most fans and players still hold our test performances and rankings as being the most important achievements. But if the miraculous happens, and the team comes home with a trophy from Sri Lanka, I guess nobody will really care about test match performances. Sadly.
As an aside, NZC are likely to announce a successor to John Wright as coach sometime around July/August. Stephen Fleming has already ruled himself out, citing family reasons. I think in years to come, when his children are a bit older, and when none of his former team-mates are still playing for New Zealand, Flem will make an excellent coach of the Black Caps. Former coach Steve Rixon has been suggested by some commentators, and I'd welcome his input; his record with NZ last time was excellent. It would mean the aussie invasion of NZC would be complete though, but if we could be as dominant as the aussie team in years past I guess that would be ok.