When England take the field against New Zealand in Saturday morning's opening Twenty20 match, they will most likely go on to become the stars of the tour, but theirs is merely a walk-on role in the bewildering tragicomedy of New Zealand Cricket (NZC).
Their two best batsmen have been absent – Jesse Ryder remains on one of the self-imposed breaks from the top flight that are becoming popular with New Zealand sportsmen partial to a tipple and Ross Taylor went off in a huff after losing the captaincy, then refused to pack his bags for a tour of South Africa. And what a tour it was: all out for 45, just 19 overs and two deliveries into day one and back at the hotel examining the drawing board by the third afternoon.
Taylor claims NZC told lies about the circumstances in which the captaincy was taken from him and he returns to the side now declaring that his relationship with new coach Mike Hesson is a "work in progress". The batsman, who lost the leadership after knocking 142 to secure a Test win in Colombo, went on to say his relationship with the new captain, Brendon McCullum, is fine, but he hinted at a divided squad. "I've got friends in the team and I'm looking forward to playing for them – and obviously playing for the management and the country as well."
No one ever said successful team-mates had to be great mates – ask Kevin Pietersen – but it's generally regarded as a good thing if the coaches are on the same songsheet. Bowling coach Shane Bond wrote to NZC (in a leaked letter) claiming Hesson was "dishonest" and involved in a "cover-up" over Taylor's sacking. We can assume Bond is one of Taylor's "friends". From his early playing days Bond's agent was Leanne McGoldrick, who now counts Taylor as her most valuable client.
Oh, for the simple days when NZC's biggest public relations problem involved dragging Ryder out of bars at 5am. And apologising to the nurses he verbally abused while getting his hand stitched. After he'd punched a window.
For good measure, New Zealand's shrewdest head, Daniel Vettori is on the injured list. He's probably glad. Hesson would welcome the return of the world's premier thoughtful-spinner-who-doesn't-spin-the-ball-much, as he would a fit, sober and sorted out Ryder.
Anyone who had never before set eyes upon New Zealand's coach might reasonably suspect that the little bloke quickening his pace to keep up with the players was an autograph hunter, who had bunked school for the day and slipped past security. Hesson replaced the widely admired John Wright, a stoic talisman from the 1980s Kiwi side whose coaching CV included the reasonable accolade of having sorted out the mess that was India. Hesson's principle attributes are a bit of domestic success with Otago, plus he seems to be great mates with McCullum.
Despite all this, the New Zealanders don't have quite the rabbits-in-headlights buzz about them that preceded last month's two-match thrashing at the hands of the Proteas. Nicking the one-day series in South Africa straightened their backs a little.
Victory in the three-match ODI series made them just the third tourists to win a 50-over series in South Africa. No easy feat. And it's in the ODIs that they have their best chance against England.
That 50-over series victory was built on some astonishing fielding (the Kiwis pounced for five run outs in the deciding match), tight death bowling and great batting from Kane Williamson. For the hosts to have any success against England, Williamson and Taylor must both deliver.
In the Tests, New Zealand's best chance is probably at the first one in Dunedin, starting on 6 March. It's a ground with a reputation for lively results. The green, seaming pitch will suit the likes of Jimmy Anderson nicely, but it's also one that might play to the strengths of the Kiwis own seam attack – one more of potential than potency. But don't hold your breath. Too many batsmen under-deliver against the top-ranked sides.
In 2008, England started with a 189-run Test defeat in Hamilton – the lowest point of Michael Vaughan's captaincy. The tourists won 2-1, with the Kiwis cashing in on the ODIs. They would count themselves fortunate with such a division of spoils in 2013.
The messy script leaves Taylor in an oddly comfortable position. Fail, and the public will blame the mess made by management; succeed, and he proves he should never have been dropped. "You've just got to get on with it," he deadpanned. "It is what it is, and I'm sure come Saturday it'll be all forgotten." Ever the optimist.Reuse content