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Heretic's Day

Turning received wisdom on its head, the meagrely-outfitted Kiwis soared within a hair's breadth of lifting the '92 Cup

Heretic's Day
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IN the '92 World Cup New Zealand enjoyed a seven-match winning streak. It was no slice of luck, but the result of a number of plans considered original. I'd been involved in the evolution of these plans for some 18 months, since I had many discussions with keeper Ian Smith during our '90 tour of England. When Warren Lees took over as coach I was delighted, for I knew he had an inventive mind and a willingness to try different ideas. There was a setback when our selectors, reacting to media pressure because of our poor lead-up performances against England, wanted drastic changes. Fortunately these were resisted and we were able to proceed with the team we wanted, with one exception. Chris Pringle, who'd shown his skills as a one-day bowler, was surprisingly left out in favour of the athletic but inexperienced Murphy Su'a. When we introduced our new tactics in the first match against Australia by opening the bowling with Dipak Patel, Sir Richard Hadlee's commentary on this move was scathing, as were his remarks about our leaving out Danny Morrison. My reasoning, wholly supported by Lees, was that the slow Eden Park conditions did not suit Morrison and that Patel would be in his element. Also, as we were taking on each team only once, any surprise tactics could not be anticipated. Facing Patel was always going to be a huge adjustment for opening batsmen, so used to fast bowlers.

 At various points in the tournament we used the two-over shuffle, frustrating batsmen hoping to get used to the same bowler; we kept them guessing about our next move. Mark Greatbatch and I had been talking over the threat of the opposition and we suddenly decided that we could metaphorically emasculate them by referring to them only by the colour of their strip. Thus Australia became the yellow team, South Africa green, West Indies maroon and so on. It was an effective ploy as it reduced them to mortality. Greatbatch, after scoring debut centuries against England and Australia, had disappointingly been in and out of the side. When John Wright was injured, Mark came in as an opener with the idea of blasting the bowlers in the first 15 overs while the field was up. He simply plastered the South African pace attack, ditto with the West Indies. He became the highest six-hitter of the tournament (with 14), many of them off the world's fastest and most lethal bowlers.

The danger in starting a round robin tournament with some unexpected wins is in not keeping one's feet on the ground. I had some help from New Zealand cricket's psychologist Jenny Oakley. We soon realised the need to come off the adrenalin of a win by putting it behind us and concentrating on the next match. We rarely celebrated, so were able to stay "grounded" throughout, and remain focused on the objective of qualifying for the semi-final at Eden Park in Auckland.

Invariably the best teams are great fielding sides. We realised this well in advance and developed specialists for various fielding positions. Apart from the last 15 overs in the semi-final, each fielder remained in the same position throughout. This made it easy to give our bowlers protection with straight-line fields. Our confidence in our strategy enabled us to go against the norm and ask the opposition to bat. The plan was to start the match with our innovative strengths and stay in front by successfully chasing moderate totals. Only when rain threatened did we need to change tack because of the stupid rule in place that finally cost South Africa their semi-final.

We worked as a close unit throughout. This was possible due to the management of coach Warren Lees. He took many of the media duties off my back, leaving me free to work on the overall leadership and tactics. It was a critical part of our strategy, which was enhanced by the encouragement of our physio Mark Plummer, a man who'd devoted his knowledge and prowess to us for a total of 10 years. We kept the best available selection, trying to be logical and not sentimental. Once they had chosen the squad, our selectors were not welcomed into our midst—we wanted no further disruption to our strategy and tactics. It was a total package that served us extremely well until those last, fatal fifteen overs when the youthful Inzamam and the crafty Miandad stole the semi-final, and ultimately won the World Cup of 1992.

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