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March 22, 2020

How Black Caps gained global fan base

Sports

March 22, 2020

The Black Caps have always enjoyed the support of neutrals by default, due to their mostly being underdogs, but there’s something about this current team that has expanded affinity into adoration.

It won’t be long before they’re so good, they’ll turn the corner and become feared and resented, but until then, here’s our best guess at why this team has gained such a global fan base.

They punch way above their weight New Zealand’s population is just 4.8 million, less than that of London or Sydney, or of most major cities in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh.

Cricket isn’t even the most popular sport in the country, so for every million young kids in India trying to be the next Virat Kohli, there are probably about a thousand in New Zealand trying to be the next Kane Williamson.

Heck, there are probably more young kids in India trying to be the next Williamson than in New Zealand. Still, New Zealand have reached the semi-finals or finals of World Cups ten times. Their current side is No 2 in the world in Tests, and their women’s team is in the top four of the ODI and T20I rankings. Even Virat Kohli, a man capable of turning the nonchalant mike drop into a gesture of anger cracks a smile when talking about playing New Zealand.

“You can’t think of revenge while playing them because they’re too nice,” he said before India’s tour there earlier this year.

In 2014, New Zealand had to continue playing a Test match against Pakistan 24 hours after the tragic death of Phil Hughes. The generation before had adopted an aggressive, “Australian” approach; New Zealand of 2014 played that Test against Pakistan without even celebrating their wickets. None of the pressures and emotions normally associated with the game were on show, and they realised it was possible to play cricket just for the game’s sake and that that could actually be enjoyable.

This has become the New Zealand way: to play attacking, enjoyable cricket without the nastiness that is sometimes seen as a necessary accompaniment. In a post-Sandpapergate world, you find many teams, including the Australians, talk about wanting to play more like New Zealand.

No team is more Zen about cruel defeat “It is what it is” has become the phlegmatic refrain New Zealand’s cricketers repeat after tough losses. But sometimes “it” is not just what it is; sometimes “it” absolutely sucks.

Such as when you lose a World Cup final due to an umpiring error and an illogical rule. After said final, New Zealand’s players did not complain or moan — or even shed too many tears. “It is a game of cricket, isn’t it?”

Eight months later, New Zealand found themselves losing two Super Overs in a row to India, but Williamson called them “good fun”. You’d be tempted to chastise New Zealand for accepting defeat too easily had they not come back and thrashed India in the ODIs and Tests that followed.

Kane Williamson He really does deserve his own entry in this list. Williamson is now so popular, some of his early fans are disappointed he’s not just their cult hero anymore. Plenty has been written about him, but to sum it up: he is a batsman who has made patience, technique and finesse a recipe for success across formats in an age of aggression, power and outrageous innovation; he is a captain other captains can’t stop gushing over; and he is a man so down to earth, nigh every fan who has met him has a story of his approachability to tell. And he has a great beard.

Their uncelebrated he­r­oes Does New Zealand’s gro­w­ing fan base mean they are losing some of their hipster appeal? Fear not. Here are BJ Watling and Neil Wagner. Watling has made a career out of getting tough, unflashy runs, often to rescue New Zealand, and he has pla­y­ed more Test matches (62), scored more runs (3226 at 40.32), and effected more dismissals (240) than any wicketkeeper since his debut in December 2009. How many teams of the decade did he get into? Wagner is a workhorse who is willing to wait till all the other seamers, including the gentle medium-pacer Colin de Grandhomme, use up the new ball before he runs in for nine-plus over spells where he bangs the ball into the pitch. And how: he has 206 Test wickets at an average of 26.60, better than those of Southee and Boult.