Comment: New Zealand’s silent rise to Test summit is resounding

Published June 27, 2021
New Zealand's Kane Williamson celebrates with the trophy and teammates after winning the final. — Reuters
New Zealand's Kane Williamson celebrates with the trophy and teammates after winning the final. — Reuters

THEY may not have the charm or the glitz generally championed by world-beating teams. They do not seem bellicose on the field either. But they do possess the capability to fight with confidence and wisdom against the very best in business. Kane Williamson and his well-drilled troops gloriously demonstrated this when it mattered the most at Southampton last Wednesday.

New Zealand before the ICC World Test Championship final had never played a five-day match at the Rose Bowl where inclement weather, apart from Virat Kohli’s men, remained another hindrance in their march to victory. On the other hand, India had already featured in two Tests at the picturesque venue. Still all these factors could not subdue New Zealand who, prior to the WTC finale, had showcased their class by winning the two-game rubber against England in their own den.

Firm commitment backed by a well-established and properly managed system has done wonders for New Zealand cricket in recent years. Here overlooking the fact that New Zealand featured in the 2019 50-over World Cup decider, which they lost to England in the last-ball super over thriller at Lord’s, would be a grave miss. The Black Caps were almost there but not to be!

And it is not just cricket in which New Zealand — a small but socially-organised nation of five million-plus — has made strides. Rugby, field hockey, squash, sailing and athletics are other sports fields where they have done exceedingly well in the international arena over the years.

Talking of commitment, the first name that comes to one’s mind is Williamson, the 30-year-old batting maestro. Cool as a cucumber, the right-hander ever since his century-rich Test debut in Ahmedabad more than ten years ago has never looked back and is now the pivot of his team’s rock-solid batting line-up. Besides amassing 7,230 runs at a magnificent average of 53.95 in 85 Tests so far, he has been instrumental in the gradual ascent of New Zealand cricket. The scores of 49 and 52 not out in the low-scoring affair at Rose Bowl speak volumes about the skipper’s class and professionalism.

His sturdy average of 61.40 while leading the team in 37 Tests only endorses the calibre of the Tauranga-born Williamson as a world-class batsman who as skipper has triumphed in 22 Tests while lost only eight.

When the leader is from top shelf, how can his players lag behind who duly take inspiration from their captain? New Zealand’s current Test outfit is a string of settled and dependable campaigners who take responsibility on regular basis. Batting veterans like Ross Taylor and B.J. Watling stood tall helping left-handed opener Devon Conway get off to a flying start to his Test career in England this summer alongside an experienced southpaw Tom Latham. Henry Nicholls has his own significance in the middle order. And Colin de Grandhomme fills the slot of a genuine all-rounder. New Zealand’s pace battery comprising an experienced trio of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner has been reinforced of late by young giant Kyle Jamieson who rocked India in Southampton.

Despite the discrepancies that the format of the inaugural WTC (2019-21) had, one cannot take anything away from New Zealand who after suffering a 3-0 whitewash at the hands of Australia Down Under in 2019-20 revived their WTC mission that produced outstanding results. After this whitewash, Williamson and his team never looked back and remained unbeaten in nine Tests winning eight of them, including the final, while drawing one.

Having said this it is also a fact that New Zealand — the richly-deserving WTC winners — do not hold an impressive overall away Test record. Winning Tests away from home consistently is a major yardstick in determining a team’s profile.

Furthermore New Zealand, ever since their admission into the Test fold back in 1930, have never been able to become the world’s strongest team in the five-day competition. Therefore, their WTC feat is stunning and praiseworthy but maintaining the top spot would, and should, indeed be the next major target for New Zealand Cricket and Williamson’s battle-hardened brigade.

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2021

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