Heady times for Black Caps

Kane Williamson. Photo: Getty Images
Kane Williamson. Photo: Getty Images
These are halcyon days for fans of the New Zealand men’s cricket team — and might we dream of World Cup glory in England in July?

The Black Caps have made success such a habit in recent times there is almost a sense of complacency around their performances.

Long, long gone (thankfully) are the days of grimacing as a flimsy top order melted in the face of hostile bowling, or wincing as a popgun attack was carted to all areas of the field, or raising an eyebrow as the latest project was whistled out of the domestic ranks.

We now expect to see New Zealand cricketers scoring centuries, dismissing world-class opposition batsmen, and celebrating victories, so much so that wins are starting to be racked up to little fanfare.

Consistent selection, smart coaching, astute captaincy, and the development of genuinely world-class cricketers — all have combined to make this a golden era for our national side.

The recent 3-0 one-day international sweep of Sri Lanka followed an unprecedented four consecutive test series wins, and the Black Caps are now ranked third in the world in both major formats of the game. If only they got to play more tests, still the sport’s premier format, they might be even higher.Cricket teams simply do not succeed without outstanding cricketers, and we are spoiled for riches in this era.

It starts, of course, with majestic captain Kane Williamson, firmly entrenched as the No 2 test batsman in the world, behind only the great Indian craftsman, Virat Kohli.

In the minds of many, Williamson is already New Zealand’s greatest batsman, ranking above Glenn Turner, the late Bert Sutcliffe and the late Martin Crowe.

Yet others question if Williamson is even the best batsman in this team. Ross Taylor has been the personification of class as he has charged to 20 one-day and 17 test centuries, flourishing in the twilight — perhaps unfair given he is still just 34? — of his career.

Around the exceptional batting pairing, several Black Caps have made big moves in the world player rankings.

Trent Boult and Tim Southee, arguably the best 1-2 bowling punch we have produced, are at No 7 and No 8 respectively in the test bowling rankings, and former Otago favourite Neil Wagner is at No 14.

What has been particularly impressive has been the rise of someone like Henry Nicholls, a seemingly unremarkable player who has surged to No 7 in the world batting rankings after a purple patch of form.

New coach Gary Stead has settled in well, but you have to think a lot of the credit for the groundwork still goes to Otago-based guru Mike Hesson, who shaped this team into a formidable unit with his analysis, meticulous preparation and calming hand.

The Indians now arrive in New Zealand for eight limited-overs games. Then comes Bangladesh for a series that includes a one-dayer at Dunedin’s University of Otago Oval.

Those games are the entree to two main dishes that offer the Black Caps a shot at immortality.They have always been solid achievers at the World Cup, and reaching the final for the first time four years ago was a breakthrough. Going one step further  and winning the tournament — would cement a place in history.After that comes another tantalising prospect, a test series in Australia. That might be the ultimate gauge of this team.

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