“Hopefully, this is just the start of a special journey in the cricketing history of the Tasman nation”
Let me begin by asking you a simple question. What teams do you expect to see in positions one and two of the ICC Test Rankings? The answer will most probably be the teams which have dominated the sport over a period of time. But can you imagine a team dominating the Test arena by some margin and that too without making much of a hullabaloo? Surely not, like dominance, in today’s cricketing world, is celebrated with so much pomp that the world sits up to notice. On the contrary, the Blackcaps from New Zealand have done so in a kind of a stealth mode as suddenly their name can be seen shining brightly on the second spot.
New Zealand Cricket Team, despite manned by some very good players over the years, has always evoked a feeling of under-achievers, a team that is destined for much more than what it eventually settles for. But the scenario now is changing rapidly as from the past one year or so, the Blackcaps have been nothing short of exceptional in the limited opportunities that they have got in the Test circuit. From the start of 2018, they are the team having the best win-loss ratio of 6 (6 wins as compared to 1 loss and 2 draws from 9 games) among the Test-playing nations having played a minimum of 5 Test matches in the period.
A study of the nitty-gritty details of this ‘unseen’ dominance will be fruitful for our understanding of the rise of the Kiwi team. From the start of 2018, the Kiwi batsmen average almost 41 runs per dismissal with the bat which is easily the best in the world by a considerable margin as no other team has averaged even in the 30s in the said period. Their 12 hundreds in the period are also just behind the Indian batsmen’s century tally of 13 for the mentioned time span.
One will also be surprised if one looks at the individual batting performances since the start of 2018 because the three batsmen sitting at the top with the best batting averages for the period are all Kiwis. Kane Williamson (average of 77.08 for his 925 runs from 9 games), Henry Nicholls (74.36 for his 818 runs from 9 games) and Tom Latham (63.30 for his 823 runs from 9 games) are the top three occupants of the batting average charts since the start of 2018. In this list, the perennially dominant Virat Kohli comes at the fourth spot in the pecking order with an average of 53.80 for his 1345 runs from 14 games.
So that was the talk of the willow-wielders which now, warrants a look at the bowling arsenal’s performance. The best thing is that the bowling core of Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner and Colin de Grandhome have stuck together as a unit and have hunted like wolves in a pack. One of Boult (bowling average of 23.13 for his 46 wickets from 9 games), Southee (23.19 for his 36 wickets from 7 games) and Wagner (30 wickets from 8 games at 25.80) has gone on to wreak havoc among the opposition ranks while the others played the supporting role perfectly well.
Even de Grandhome has an economy rate of 2.46 runs per over, the best among the pacers in the team, which means that even if he is not getting that much wickets, he has held one end tight so as to maintain the pressure built by his teammates. The spin department has seen a rotating ensemble with Ayaz Patel looking as the permanent choice while others being included as the situation has demanded. Their fielding has also been stupendous, as is expected of them, with them having the second-best dismissal per inning (D/I) ratio of 0.582 coming from 109 fielding dismissals from 187 player innings from 9 games. Only South Africa’s D/I of 0.600 is better in this regard.
The adage that ‘A team is as good as its leader’ fits perfectly well to describe the story of the Kiwi dominance. Their Captain Williamson is a very soft-spoken, pragmatic leader having a really sharp brain who knows how to extract the maximum output from the resources at his disposal. His own stupendous form has helped boost his confidence which reflects in his captaincy. He rarely shows emotions on the field and prefers to silently do his job which is why he is ranked as high as the second-best batsman in the world.
Hopefully, this is just the start of a special journey in the cricketing history of the Tasman nation. There are many more glories to be taken; many more highlights like that of the UAE Test series heist to be pulled off and many more ladders of the ascendency to traverse. They have the right man in the cockpit to steer their plane which currently heads towards the mega showpiece event of the cricketing world – The Cricket World Cup 2019.