The end of all bad and the beginning of all good — this is what the end of 2020 meant for the whole world. This is also true for the cricketing nation New Zealand. While it is a small nation with a very low population (approx. 5 million), NZ has a prominent position in the geopolitics of the world, especially in the last year. With her spirited leadership, the country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made the island country a prominent player in the world
Rugby is New Zealand’s national sport thanks to its deep connection with the people’s identity. Along with Rugby, the natives are also into cricket and the country has produced great talents in the latter — with some names including Kane Williamson, Trent Boult, Stephen Fleming, and Shane Bond. Like all former colonies of Britain, NZ also inherited both cricket and rugby from Britain. Now, with just days into the New Year, the island nation achieved a historic feat in Test cricket — which is considered the classic format of the game.
Moving above Australia in the Test rankings, New Zealand has gone up to be the number 1 test team in the world for the first time since they’ve started playing Test cricket. Before achieving this historic milestone, their skipper Kane Williamson also became the number 1 test batsman. Blackcaps, as they’ve known since 1998, the New Zealand team now involves world-class players. New Zealand’s captain Kane has taken cricket to a new level in the country. He is one of the modern-day legends in cricket, especially since the success of the Blackcaps goes so far as to showcase Kane’s talents.
The Blackcaps’ monumental achievement must not be seen lightly, as it is a very eventful journey. England, India and Australia are the three dominant cricketing nations and their boards are better placed in terms of income and finance. The New Zealand board marked a net loss for the third consecutive year after “recording losses of NZD 3.5 million [USD 2.2 million] for 2017-18 and NZD 9.3 million (US$5.9 million) for 2016-17”.
While there were many cricketing legends for New Zealand, it was under Stephen Fleming that they became stable performers. After Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe left the scene, New Zealand cricket hadn’t had much hope until Fleming came into the scene. The team rose to a higher level of performance under Fleming and a generation of accomplished all-round talent. Once Fleming retired, things started to look bad for New Zealand again. The infamous fight between Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor over the position of Captain was one such instance. However, they performed well in the 2015 Cricket World Cup where they also co-hosted with Australia.
Their run ended with an unimpressive final, giving Australia an easy win. From there, the Blackcaps managed to bring in and find the talent in Kane who captained his side in the 2019 world cup. The final match between New Zealand and England was one of the most dramatic matches cricket fans will never forget. Currently, the team is known by the likes of Boult and Kane, along with senior players Taylor and Tim Southee. After Kane’s introduction, New Zealand's ODI side went through arguably their most successful period but they still had to prove themselves in another format of the game — the real ‘Test’, where everything mattered. Overall, the 21st Century was kind to the cricketing nation, as New Zealand reached the last two World Cup finals as well as the semi-finals in 2007.
Now as it all stands, they’ve produced quite a test side. With swing bowlers like Boult, Southee and the test specialist Neil Wagner, also accompanied by occasional spin from Mitchell Santner, they have quite a great bowling line-up. The batting department is also fine with the captain himself leading with his stellar batting average of 54.31 accompanied by the experienced Taylor. There are also young talents like Henry Nicholls and Tom Latham in the team. The latest finding of the team in 2020 was Kyle Jamieson, a genuine all-round cricketer, but the spotlight is on Kane Williamson who continues to give his best. He also found himself in the best test team of the decade as declared by the International Cricket Council. Recently, the team has also managed to break many game records. BJ Watling took his 250th Test catch, while Southee took his 300th Test wicket — the best for any New Zealander after Richard Hadlee and Daniel Vettori. Kane has also moved into the 7000 Test runs club. Following Fleming’s departure, the New Zealand team found no success in the field for a while. Then Kane came along and now the team plays like a well-oiled machine.
The history of Cricket in New Zealand began with an Anglican missionary Henry Williams, who organised the first match in Northland in 1832. They played their first Test in 1930 against England and till now, the island nation has played 446 test matches. They were arguably a good side in the ODIs even from the first world cup in 1975, reaching the semi-finals that year. Though New Zealand started playing test cricket in 1930, they only won their first test in 1956, almost waiting for 26 years. Their first win was against the West Indies team in Christchurch in New Zealand. Their first test series win was in 1969 against Pakistan after 39 years since their first Test match. Their first back-to-back series win was in 1983 against England and Sri Lanka after 53 years. Finally, they got to the top in 2020 with arguably the best-balanced team they ever had after 90 years of playing Test cricket.
Blackcaps played some 29 tests since 2017 with 21 on their home turf and only eight away matches. Out of the eight, they’ve won three and tied one with Sri Lanka. It is still surprising that a country with only five million people has found itself at the top position in Test cricket. While New Zealand is often accused of being a home-track bully, it has to be considered in the context of the pandemic. However, one has to admit the kind of cricket they’ve played irrespective of where they’ve played them. We have to respect that and should admire the young talents they’ve produced.
Even against all the odds, the Blackcaps have attained the top spot usually dominated by the big three (India, Australia and England). The Blackcaps may enjoy their success while it lasts because the Australian team has a chance to get back to the top with the Border-Gavaskar series still going on. The journey for New Zealand was all about determination, persistence and hard work. Let’s hope they continue to mesmerise us with good cricket.