18 Jan 2019

Top athletes take the heat

12:59 pm on 18 January 2019

By Hamish Bidwell*

Opinion - Let's start with Brendon McCullum.

Brisbane Heat batsman and former Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum.

Brisbane Heat batsman and former Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum. Photo: Photosport

He and the Brisbane Heat played a Big Bash match last night, but we all know the former New Zealand captain retired in 2016.

You hesitate, at least a little, to call the Big Bash - and the other Twenty20 competitions of the world - a pub league, but it's fair to say there's a social element and the results aren't of much importance.

That's why it was odd to see the gleeful way the winding down of McCullum's second career as a Twenty20 gun for hire was being reported. Franchises were dispensing with his services, he couldn't score a run for the Heat and - ha! - wasn't it just what he deserved for "stealing" the Black Caps' captaincy off Ross Taylor all those years ago.

McCullum is 37. He was a very, very good New Zealand skipper and a welcome change from cricket's default setting of just making the best batsman captain. He was charismatic and innovative and helped the team qualify for their first Cricket World Cup final.

Like him or don't like him, but don't judge him on the hit-and-giggle stuff he's played since giving up proper cricket.

Kieran Read

Kieran Read Photo: Photosport

All Blacks captain Kieran Read's had the rule run over his rugby in recent times, and rightly so. Unlike McCullum, he's not retired yet.

In the meantime, Read appears determined to be a more visible and likeable character, having rarely given any indication of being bothered about the opinion of anyone outside the All Blacks.

It's hard not to feel it's all related to questions in November about whether his form warranted retention in the team. You could tell by the way All Blacks coach Steve Hansen reacted at the time, by advising people not click on stories and hoping journalists might lose jobs, that the criticisms of Read hit the mark.

Read can do all the appearances with sympathetic media he likes and show us all how caring and personable he is, but they're no substitute for playing well.

Read is rumoured to be mulling a post-world cup contract in Japan. Other All Blacks are contemplating similar; whether it be by way of sabbatical or a long-term deal.

Good luck to them, but spare us the hand-wringing about how the national team can possibly go on without them and how thin New Zealand's playing resources are becoming.

By any measure Richie McCaw, Daniel Carter, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock were all-time All Blacks greats and yet all moved on after the 2015 Rugby World Cup. And somehow life, and the All Blacks' proud tradition of winning, just carried on as normal.

Matt Proctor playing for Wellington.

Matt Proctor is leaving the Hurricanes for Northhampton Photo: Photosport

It's not just the old stagers going, either. One-test All Black Matt Proctor has announced that, at 26, he'll leave the Hurricanes for Northampton following the upcoming Super Rugby season.

Well, when your franchise signs your little brother to a five-year deal and predicts he'll be a star in the position you're currently playing, then it's time to look elsewhere.

Proctor is a very good centre, particularly on defence, but it's hard to see him getting picked in the All Blacks' No.13 jersey ahead of Jack Goodhue anytime soon. Now, with little brother Billy to compete with at the Hurricanes, he's taken the smart option.

Trans-Tasman battles like this between the Tactix and the Melbourne Vixens could be a thing of the past.

A Trans-Tasman battle between the Tactix and the Melbourne Vixens. Photo: Photosport

What was never smart was Netball New Zealand's eagerness to walk away from the trans-Tasman league.

Yes, partnering Netball Australia presented challenges. The Aussies were always battling to tie down a broadcast partner and the regular hidings their teams dished out to the New Zealand ones rarely made for great TV.

But in opting to make their franchises look less inept in a mediocre domestic competition, NNZ condemned the Silver Ferns to the sorts of defeats they're suffering now.

While the world's best players thrive in the Australian competition, New Zealand's so-called elite are left to languish here. Two Englishwomen, a Jamaican and a South African made the Australian league's team of 2018 and yet we wonder why the Silver Ferns struggle.

The issues run a lot deeper than coach Noeline Taurua and the players she's trying to work with.

* Hamish Bidwell is a contributor to Radio New Zealand. He has previously worked at The Northern Advocate, Gisborne Herald, Hawke's Bay Today, The Press, The Dominion Post and Stuff.

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