Unlike his predecessor John Wright, Mike Hesson was not a household name in world cricket when he was appointed the New Zealand coach six years ago. Having never made it past the reserves’ list in first class cricket as a player and whose previous coaching experiences with national sides included stints with Argentina and Kenya, Hesson’s appointment as the new Blackcaps coach was a surprise. More so, as he was given the difficult task of redeeming the fortunes of the national side after the forgettable World Cup campaign of 2011.
But those who followed New Zealand cricket closely, he was perfectly suited for the job having played a big hand in the turnaround of struggling Otago in the domestic circuit. He was known for his sharp cricketing brain and he carried no baggage of stardom. He may have slid into the role initially as an unobtrusive presence in the dressing room but he soon emerged as an assertive coach.
Talking exclusively with Firstpost, a day after putting in his papers, Hesson says he was always confident of delivering the goods, despite the lack of experience of coaching a big international side and the presence of some of the superstars like Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum in the national set-up. “When I took over, most of the members of the national team had worked under me with the New Zealand A team. So I was familiar with them and there was already a comfort factor. But pressures of coaching a top grade international side was definitely new to me,’’ says Hesson.
The players fed off his technical nous and worked tirelessly with the team in the training sessions. He brought about a change in the leadership and forged a great working relationship with captain McCullum. The duo led a stirring resurgence of New Zealand cricket which saw the Blackcaps make the final of an ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time in 2015.
The team’s performance in the Test arena also showed marked improvement. At home under Hesson, New Zealand won 8 of their 11 Test series including victories over India and England. As the stocks of the national side shored, Hesson was hailed as the super coach, the master tactician who played a key role in the team’s ascent. So when the 43-year-old announced his resignation to take a break from the rigours of international cricket, it marked the end of a successful era for New Zealand cricket.
Hesson’s stint started with a creditable 1-1 result in the Tests in Sri Lanka, often an insurmountable force at home. But there was disquiet in the camp as he advocated a change in captaincy preferring to hand over the reign of the shorter formats to McCullum from Taylor.
Taylor who had scored a match winning hundred in Sri Lanka felt let down and made himself unavailable for the subsequent tour of South Africa. “In a span of six years, you have to take hard decisions as a coach and a selector taking into account what will work for the team. It was one of those and I do not have any regrets,’’ reiterates Hesson.
Taylor’s exit marked the emergence of McCullum in the leadership role and he along with Hesson formed a successful bond. “Baz (McCullum) was a very assertive leader. He led from the front and he was very clear about what he wanted from the team. It was his team and on the field, it was him who called the shots. I was happy to be in the background.’’
While the two were credited for leading New Zealand to their maiden ICC World Cup final, Hesson feels Test victories in the West Indies and a drawn series against Pakistan in the UAE in 2014 were most satisfying. “As an international coach, victories away from home give you the biggest high and these two wins really stand out for me.’’ New Zealand captained by McCullum toured the Caribbean for a three match series. The series was level 1-1 going into the decider in Barbados where the visitors pulled off an exciting 53 run win. It was New Zealand's first series win away from home against a top-eight cricket nation in 12 years.
A few months later at Sharjah, in an emotionally charged atmosphere following the death of Phil Hughes, New Zealand rode on a batting masterclass from McCullum (290) to pull off a victory against Pakistan and draw the three match series 1-1. “The circumstances under which the victory was achieved was really stirring,’’ remembers Hesson.
Hesson has also followed the career of New Zealand’s run-machine Kane Williamson, who is now taken over the captaincy from McCullum. “He is more of a collaborative leader who doles out leadership roles to others. He is very methodical in his approach, a diligent and hard-working individual, a tactician and a master in problem-solving skills. He is never satisfied and this has helped him to pile up those big runs.’’
India will travel to New Zealand for five one dayers and 3 T20Is in early 2019 but the next assignment for Virat Kohli-led side is the long series against England. “I am very impressed by the skill sets of the present generation of fast bowlers from India. The country boasts of bowlers with speeds in the region of 140 kmph and can swing and seam the ball. The likes of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bhumrah are an asset in any condition. For the first time, India has such a talented group of fast bowlers,’’ feels Hesson who had a close look at the Indian players while working as a commentator during the IPL.
Hesson’s last assignment included a one nil series win over England at home but the former New Zealand coach does not read too much into the win loss ratios. “To me, my greatest contribution has been building a side that plays competitive cricket, the hard way, without compromising on the spirit of the great game,’’ signs off Hesson.