The Black Caps have a choice: learn from Bob Blair or pull up stumps and come back home

The 1953–54 New Zealand cricket team in South Africa. R.W. (Bob) Blair is the last player on the right in the second row. Bert Sutcliffe is third from the right, sitting down.

No disrespect to Alan Donald.

But maybe we sent the wrong bloke to the Cricket World Cup to coach our bowlers.

We should have sent Bob Blair.

The tossers who ponce beneath the title “Black Caps” doubtless are learning much from Donald’s coaching.

Actually, they probably could learn much from the coaching skills of Alf’s seven-year-old grand-daughter, who performed admirably as a bowler (albeit under-arm) in a match at the beach at the weekend.

Donald is a gutsy feller and was a great bowler in his hey day.

But Bob Blair is the bloke they need to give them balls – not the reverse swinging sort (which is Donald’s domain) but the testosterone sort.

Alf contrasts the buckling of the Black Caps in their match against Australia with events featuring Blair several decades ago.

Back then, the Tangiwai disaster coincided with a test match in South Africa.

This time, events in Christchurch have come into the reckoning as the pundits examine what happened on the pitch.

The Black Caps can be forgiven for reacting as everybody else has done to news of the earthquake.

Members of the team expressed dismay when they learned of the earthquake and its impact.

New Zealand manager Dave Currie said several were woken by calls from friends and family soon after the earthquake hit yesterday at 5.20am Indian time.

“The team are devastated by what has happened,” Currie said.

“There have been a large number of enquires regarding team members and support staff who live in Christchurch and initial reports are that their immediate friends and family are safe. However, our thoughts are firmly with the people of Christchurch and deepest sympathy with those that have lost loved ones.”

But long before the buggers went out to play Australia, captain Daniel Vettori was saying it would be difficult for several players to focus on the game.

“Five or six guys from the team and the management crew based in Christchurch so it’s been a rough time finding out their family is safe,” he said.

“For those guys it’s going to be a distraction… they’ve got wives and children at home. It’s going to be a testing time for everyone within the team.

“The biggest thing we can do for people is win our game against Australia. That will bring a little bit of light relief to some people going through a tough time.”

Alas, they proceeded to let themselves be thrashed.

Richard Hadlee, a bloke who had plenty of balls in his day, swinging and otherwise, has been commenting on the debacle in Indian newspapers –

The way the Black Caps played against Australia suggested that they did not know what they were doing or how they were going to achieve a positive result.

Yes, there was plenty of emotion before the match with a minutes’ silence to remember those who had fallen in the Christchurch earthquake.

Yes, they wore black armbands as a mark of respect. They listened to the national anthem knowing many Kiwis would be watching them, hoping for a win to give a grieving nation some good news.

This sad event is New Zealand’s darkest day in our 150-year history. I could feel for them — I had tears in my eyes as well.

I am sure all those things would have had a profound effect on the players, but the way they played raises a few issues.

Should they have played the match in the first place or should they have gifted Australia two points by default?

Were they mentally prepared as a team to play and perform?

Were they focussed on each and every individual job that needed to be implemented well to beat a champion team?

Or, should they have withdrawn from the World Cup altogether?

Hadlee’s tart observations include the fact that since 2009, the Black Caps’ top-seven batsmen have averaged 27 runs per innings, which is worse than Zimbabwe’s top-seven.

Oh dear. We play them next on March 4.

So if they are not going to pack up and come home – which they might usefully do to spare Alf and his mates the embarrassing spectacle of their ineptitude – they should call for Bob Blair.

Remember him? And the Tangiwai disaster?

An account of his gutsy performance in a test match in South Africa in 1953 can be found at nzhistory.net.nz.

By the time play resumed, reports of the Tangiwai tragedy – at the time the world’s eighth-deadliest rail disaster – had flashed around the world. The news was especially devastating for one of the New Zealand players, fast bowler Bob Blair, who learned that his fiancée, Nerissa Love, was among the 151 victims.

And so….

As New Zealand began its first innings on the morning of the 26th, chasing South Africa’s 271, a distraught Blair remained at the team hotel and was not expected to play.

On a lively pitch, Bert Sutcliffe and Lawrie Miller were both forced to retire hurt after being hit by bouncers from the fiery fast bowler Neil Adcock; John Reid was struck five times before being dismissed for three.

With the visitors reduced to 81 for 6, Sutcliffe returned to the crease, his forehead swathed in bandages. When the ninth wicket fell at 154, however, all of the players began to leave the field.

Suddenly the crowd stood in silence as the lone figure of Blair emerged from the tunnel and was greeted by Sutcliffe, who placed a comforting arm around his shoulder. What followed was sensational as the pair smashed 25 runs (including four sixes – three by Sutcliffe and one by Blair) off a single over from South Africa’s Hugh Tayfield.

By the time Blair was dismissed, the team’s total had climbed to 187, with Sutcliffe 80 not out.

A superb bowling effort then restricted South Africa to just 148, leaving the New Zealanders chasing 233 for a historic first test win.

Although they reached 75 for 3 on the last morning, a win was not to be as the remaining 7 wickets fell for 25.

Nevertheless, the local press hailed the New Zealanders’ ‘dauntless spirit’ and declared that ‘All the glory was for the vanquished’; ‘Memories of the match will not be of the runs made or of wickets taken, but of the courage displayed.’

Let’s see what they will be saying about the Black Caps after the Zimbabwe match.

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