For all those books explaining what the British could learn about health, happiness and everything else from the Scandinavians, Japanese and French, no one seems to have done anything much on what the New Zealanders have to teach us. Perhaps the problem is in persuading them to talk openly about their achievements. Like Tim Southee said the other day: “It’s not really the Kiwi way.”
So here they are, one of the smallest cricket-playing countries, with one of the slightest budgets and the sparsest player pools, ranked first in the one-day rankings, second in Tests, third in T20s and about to play India in the first World Test Championship final.
Before that there are two Tests against England, and a return to Lord’s for the first time since the World Cup final in 2019, the ricochet off Ben Stokes’s bat, the super over, the boundary countback and all that. They have seemed a little reluctant to open up about that match, despite attempts to lure them into talking about how they are out for bloody revenge this week. Their captain, Kane Williamson, does not seem to much go in for that sort of thing. He seemed to have some pretty warm memories of it all.
“There’s certainly no thought of ‘owing’ anybody anything. We were both part of a fantastic game that was decided, in the end, by things that were largely outside both teams’ control,” he said. “Both teams went at it to the best of their abilities on a wicket that offered a little bit for everybody.
“It was a special game to be a part of. You can feel whatever you want about the result, but there was some fine print and a few other bits and pieces that went on in the game. It will still be a game that will be remembered fondly, whether you were on the right side or the wrong side.”
There was a fleeting reference to “some rule being adjusted and whatnot” – the International Cricket Council scrapped boundary countback that year and replaced it with a second super over – but Williamson quickly followed with the caveat that “it’s all part and parcel of sport”. There is no sense wasting yourself worrying about what you cannot control.
That phlegmatic attitude is one of the things that has helped his team to improve the way they have. He is a cool hand, a calm mind and a capable captain, as well as a great batsman. When Williamson made his debut in 2010, New Zealand were ranked eighth in the world. Soon after, they went through an 19-month stretch winning one Test out of 19. Ten years later, they recently reached the top of the Test match rankings for the first time. “We’ve seen a lot of improvement in the side over a long period of time and being a part of that growth has been really enjoyable.”
Just do not ask him to explain how they have done it. “It is really difficult to stop for a moment in time and make a judgment on it all, when you know that you know the next day there’s another challenge to address and there’s always room to improve.
“Here we are now facing another tough challenge against England and then India. So we’re very realistic about where our focus needs to beand it’s certainly not looking backwards.”
It helps that the core of his team – Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling – have been alongside him all the way.
They are a formidable group. In New Zealand’s history, 12 regular batsmen have averaged more than 40 in Test cricket and 12 regular bowlers have averaged less than 30. Four of the first lot are in this side and so are three of the second.
Although Boult will not play this week or next, a fourth bowler, the 6ft 8in Kyle Jamieson, will probably join them on that list soon enough since he has taken 36 wickets at 13 runs apiece in his first six games. There is a solidity, a reassuring predictability, to the lineup that makes for an intriguing contrast with the more experimental squad England have picked.
The Spin: sign up and get our weekly cricket email.
There is also a newfound strength in depth that means they had three good candidates (Tom Blundell, Will Young and the one they picked, Devon Conway) to open the batting alongside Tom Latham and three more (Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Daryl Mitchell) for the all-rounder’s position.
They would never say it – and Williamson declined the opportunity to do so – but they must be the strongest Test squad New Zealand have sent on tour to England, a group who could do remarkable things in the next three weeks.
The Insidexpress is now on Telegram and Google News. Join us on Telegram and Google News, and stay updated.