Two major trophies are up for grabs this year as a golden era takes root in NZ cricket
Seven series played, seven trophies held aloft. The win-loss record stands at 17-3. A World Test Championship final spot secure. A T20 side revitalised. It hasn’t been far off the perfect summer for New Zealand.
It started and ended with a cavalcade of boundaries at Eden Park: West Indies back on November 27 and then Bangladesh on Thursday. Barring two matches in Wellington, it has all been in front of crowds. That’s plaudits for the government rather than the team, but it has made for some great spectacles (and wonderful pictures).
The one significant stumble came against Australia in the T20I series when 2-0 up became 2-2, but even that had positives for a team building towards a World Cup. In the decider they came through with flying colours.
The big prize, however, was earning a place in the World Test Championship showdown. They probably needed to win all four Tests in the season and they achieved it - in the end they were able to sit back while India, Australia and England scrapped over who would join them in June.
Three Tests were won by an innings as West Indies were swept aside and Pakistan trounced in Christchurch. But one of the images of the season came at the conclusion of the first Test against Pakistan in Mount Maunganui, when Mitchell Santner and a mass of close catchers leapt in unison as he clung onto a return chance to seal victory when the visitors were threatening to deny them.
“It’s been really exciting for the team, we’ve played some really good cricket across all formats of the game,” coach Gary Stead said. “If you said to me at the start of the year that those results would be what they would be I’d say, yeah, I’d sign up for that any day.
“Think winning Test matches is still the ultimate for the group and we knew at the start of the summer that we needed to win four of them to give us a chance of the final so to do that was pretty exciting, especially the game at Mount Maunganui went it went right down to the wire.”
Kane Williamson made 639 in three Test matches and Kyle Jamieson bagged 27 wickets at 12.25 in the format. Henry Nicholls, who began under some pressure, scored two centuries. Neil Wagner helped win a Test with a broken toe. Tim Southee was the leading wicket-taker across all formats with 39 scalps. If Trent Boult perhaps did not quite hit his usual heights, the slack was comfortably taken up - and Boult’s stunner at third man in Wellington was catch of the season, although Glenn Phillips nearly stole it off him a couple of days ago in Napier.
The depth in New Zealand men’s cricket is as good as it has ever been: 29 players were used this season (a previous regular, Colin de Grandhomme, did not feature due to injury) and all have a chance of appearing again.
Devon Conway scored 698 runs across 17 white-ball innings (how he gets into the Test team is one of the big calls to make); Phillips has energised the T20 middle order; Will Young finally had the chance of debuts in all three formats; Daryl Mitchell hit Test and ODI hundreds; Matt Henry is able to slot in whenever needed; Lockie Ferguson and Adam Milne can hit 150kph; Finn Allen signs off the season with a display of thunderous hitting. Somebody is probably missing from this list.
“I can assure you when we sit round the selection table they don’t get shorter at the moment,” Stead said. “Think that’s a healthy problem to have. That depth is really important to our future over the next five to ten years. The guys that have been brought into the team for the first time or returning players who have come back - to see all of them step up and in team performances on most occasions that we are really proud of is the thing that’s the most pleasing for me.”
The Test side was pretty rock solid, especially at home, before this season - they haven’t lost a series on their own turf since March 2017 - and were favourites to achieve the four victories they did, but there were questions over the T20 side and how it was building towards October’s T20 World Cup having been beaten 5-0 by India last season, albeit with two Super Over losses in there. New Zealand are a side the 12-month delay to the tournament is likely to have helped.
“Think we’ve played an improved brand of T20 cricket as well against some really good international sides and that’s been really pleasing,” Stead said. “We’ve acknowledged that we haven’t been as good as we could be in certain areas and we’ve worked on them. Think we’ve seen some rewards for playing a more courageous brand.”
Like with a number of sides, ODI cricket took a backseat - the series against Bangladesh was their first for a year - but they won 3-0 with stand-in captain Tom Latham clinching it with an unbeaten hundred in the one game where they were under pressure. With the emergence of new batting talent, it could be that Ross Taylor’s desire to make the 2023 World Cup is taken out his hands after he was moved aside from the T20 side during the summer.
There are questions remaining, as will always be the case. At times during the season the strength of opposition was cited as a counter to New Zealand’s success, although that is hardly their fault.
A number of those who have come into the various sides and performed strongly have not yet done it overseas, particularly in Asia, which will make the lead-in to the T20 World Cup important. The spin-bowling resources for Test cricket are a weaker spot. Their last Test tour was a 3-0 drubbing in Australia.
None of that, though, should detract from what they have achieved. Now the challenge is to go one step further and claim a major piece of silverware which has agonisingly escaped them before. They have two opportunities over the next six months. This is a golden era for New Zealand cricket, they’ll never have a better chance. –Cricinfo