Success in the peculiar game

New Zealand’s summer of test cricket is scarcely believable.

Little young New Zealand wiped out a handy Pakistan team in two tests after dismantling a weaker West Indies in the previous two.

Somehow, and for the first time, New Zealand is ranked number one test nation. Somehow, the Black Caps are ahead of Australia, India, England, South Africa.

This is a team cruelly denied the one-day cricket crown in England in 2019. This is a team that can claim to be this country’s best, surpassing the Richard Hadlee, Martin Crowe team which could and did beat nemesis Australia in the 1980s.

Those with long memories remember when New Zealand was bowled out at Eden Park for 26 against England in 1955, when Australia only bothered to send a B team, when New Zealand only ever had a handful of class players who were forced to carry impossible burdens.

It took until 1978 to first beat England. Now, we expect to win, at least at home.

New Zealand’s team of five million is minuscule compared to the heavyweights. Sometimes, too, our weather is not conducive to this elongated “summer” game.

But there are clues to this success, attributes that tiny and remote New Zealand should apply to other spheres.

First is making the most of what you have. The cricketers have created a positive culture where talent is encouraged and nurtured. Players are not quickly discarded if they have a lean trot.

Second is the importance of hard work, dedication and preparation, exemplified in Kane Williamson. After two double centuries and one century in three tests, he is ranked the world’s No 1 test batsman. This leading by example spreads to other members of the team.

Third is the presence of a star. Kyle Jamieson, a new wonder of bounce and swerve, has hit the pitch. He was even more successful than the sultan of swing, Tim Southee, the gutsy Neil Wagner and the clever and lively Trent Boult.

Fourth is wise and experienced leadership, again exemplified by Williamson. Leadership in life, as well as sport, can come in different styles. NZ cricket had a cracker in the cunning and bold Brendon McCullum. It has one, too, in Williamson’s understated, thoughtful approach.

Luck does not go amiss. Just ask Henry Nicholls, who was dropped more times than some batsmen are in a career. Williamson’s masterclasses, too, could easily have been cut short with a gram of bad luck. Rain, largely, stayed away when it mattered.

Overall, what crucially counts is attitude and application.

Such is the nature of cricket.

In the euphoria of such success, nevertheless, it pays to keep feet on the turf.

Late in 2019, the team was being talked about as New Zealand’s best yet. Then came the Perth day-night test on no preparation. The toss was lost, a fast bowler pulled up lame and the team baked for two days in the hot sun.

Nothing subsequently went right. The Australians, led by pacier pacemen, a few top-flight batsmen and a skilled spinner dismantled the Black Caps in all three tests. Redemption is required.

May this glorious summer of cricket continue even if the main course — the test matches — has been consumed.

New Zealand hosts Australia in a twenty20 series in February, including a match at the University of Otago Oval. Victory would taste sweet but the duel that really matters, test matches, will have to wait for another time.

There are also one-day and twenty20 contests with Bangladesh. One fixture is in Dunedin.

Test cricket is, without doubt, a most peculiar game of precision and patience, power and grace. It “tests” so many physical, specialist and psychological skills. It is both an individual and a team pursuit.

How remarkable that New Zealand, so often in past generations a cricketing poor relation, can be ranked No 1.

 

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