Clouds still hover over NZ cricket

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The Independent Online

It can hardly be said that English cricket is currently on a high, but New Zealand were the side most in need of a victory in the first one-day international here yesterday. New Zealand cricket is currently in a state of deep depression, a predicament that was exacerbated by the thumpings the Black Caps received from England in last week's two Twenty20 internationals.

The root of the problem is what is happening in India, where two rival Twenty20 leagues are competing for the attention of the country's cricket-mad fans. Billions of dollars are being invested as the Indian Cricket League and the Indian Premier League vie for the signatures of cricket's biggest names.

The IPL are sanctioned, the ICL are not. Neither league, if we are being honest, are too interested in the long-term effect their actions may have on the game. All everyone involved wants is to make a shedload of money by milking Twenty20 cricket for all it is worth.

In the middle of all this greed sit the cricketers of New Zealand, a group of fairly high-profile performers employed by a governing body who cannot compete with the sums of money being offered in India.

For several, the timing of the leagues could not have been better. Age had finally caught up with Chris Cairns, Nathan Astle, Chris Harris and Craig McMillan, and their association with the ICL offers them one last payday.

The timing of their exits was not influenced by the lure of Indian rupees, but the same cannot be said for Shane Bond, Hamish Marshall and Daryl Tuffey, current players with plenty to offer a nation not blessed with a huge pool of talent. For differing reasons each chose to join the ICL rather than represent their country, and for this they are banned from international cricket.

For former captain Stephen Fleming, current captain Daniel Vettori, Scott Styris, Brendon McCullum and Jacob Oram, players who have committed to the IPL, the ramifications are not so severe. Supposedly they are playing with the approval of Cricket New Zealand.

How long that will remain the case is debatable. The IPL tournament is to be played in April and May, and it is believed that those named above will miss the start of New Zealand's tour of England to fulfil their obligations in India. A governing body prepared to accept this scenario are in real trouble.

Many believe Styris's decision to retire from Test cricket was motivated by the desire to avoid injury and cash in with IPL, for which he will earn twice as much as CNZ pay him. The decisions of many of these players have been made easier by the policies of John Bracewell, the team's unpopular coach.

New Zealand is a proud sporting nation that continually punches above its weight. Millions of Kiwis would do anything to represent their country and, in their eyes, the behaviour of these fortunate few belittles what it means to wear the silver fern.

There was a similar climate around the England cricket team in 1989 when many of the country's leading players turned their back on the national side to go on a lucrative rebel tour of South Africa. It took English cricket more than a decade to get back on track, and New Zealand seem to be heading down a similar path.

Yesterday's victory will help lift the spirits of New Zealand cricket fans, but it appears to be the equivalent of a plaster protecting an axe wound.

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