It was an evening meeting at skipper Brendon McCullum’s room in January 2013 that turned New Zealand cricket on its head. Paving the way from humiliation to triumph. From self-doubt to where they are now: finalists in two successive 50-over World Cups and the World Test championship.
Eight years ago, they had been shot out for 45 in 19.2 overs in a Test at Cape Town by Dale Steyn & Co after McCullum had gone against conventional wisdom and batted first. That evening, the captain was joined by coach Mike Hesson, manager Mike Sandle and assistant coach Bob Carter to pick up the emotional debris. “If an innings of 45 all out doesn’t force you to reconsider what you’re doing, I guess nothing will,” McCullum would say in his MCC Lecture in 2016.
In many ways, 45 all out was only the symptom of the ailment. McCullum’s fallout with senior pro Ross Taylor had caused fissures. A system of hierarchy prevalent in the dressing room was not conducive for younger players. “We concluded that, individually and collectively, we lacked character. The key for all of us was the team had no ‘soul’. We were full of bluster and soft as putty,” he recollected.
New Zealand’s journey to Southampton where they would meet India for the Test championship finale had begun on that crisp summer evening in Cape Town in January 2013. “We wanted to personify the traits that we identified in New Zealanders — to be humble and hardworking. We wanted to be respected by our long-suffering fans back home. We wanted to be respected by our opposition, and before we could demand this we had to learn to respect them,” McCullum said.
The rise of the Black Caps in world cricket is a feel-good story about a small nation managing to overcome barriers with limited resources — a population of five million and around 120 first-class cricketers — and assemble a bunch of resourceful individuals who have found successes on shores as diverse as Wellington, Abu Dhabi and Edgbaston. Having won 14 of their last 16 series, they have rightfully earned a spot in the World Test Championship final against India at the Ageas Bowl. Such has been their strength in depth that top-order batsman Will Young, who scored 82 in the second Test against England, is certain to be benched against India once captain Kane Williamson returns. A similar fate awaits seamer Matt Henry, who walked off with the Player of the Match award.
Streamlining of talent
If 2013 and beyond saw the flowering of the character of the team, the institutional seeds were sown five years earlier. Two vital changes were instrumental in streamlining local talent, and ensuring continuity in the selection of players. First, the move to recruit independent directors in New Zealand Cricket, and the second was the setting up of high-performance hubs in each of the six state associations — Northern Districts, Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury, Central Districts and Otago.
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“The independent directors were recruited on merit and didn’t represent any of the six state associations. This meant there would be no politics involved either in team selections or in the implementation of policies to improve how the game was being played,” Heath Mills, CEO of New Zealand’s Players Association, told The Indian Express.
“The high-performance hubs brought about a fundamental change. It professionalised the sport, and athletes were now being paid for their commitments. Domestic matches were now played in around 10 of the best venues where pitches met a certain standard. Every ground had this plush indoor facility which gave players complete access throughout the year. These interventions helped in talent coming through the ranks,” Mills says.
They were also lucky, thanks to the steady stream of South African expatriates like BJ Watling, Neil Wagner, Grant Elliott and Devon Conway, who made a seamless progression to international cricket.
The results of these changes at the domestic level became evident by 2015. “We’ve been blessed with a small playing group. New Zealand Cricket turns over $70million a year, which is probably as much as a state association in India. It’s a close-knit group where everyone knows everyone and supports each other. We see to it that we get the best from our existing talent pool,” Mills opined.
The baton passes to Williamson
When ‘gambler’ McCullum gave way to the man of logic in Williamson, there were some in New Zealand who were unsure. Would it be a drastic change of character and leadership? Williamson captains the way he bats – logical, considered thought. He hasn’t tried to change others to his mould but subtly influenced them and allowed characters as different as Jimmy Neesham and Trent Boult to flourish. The contrast in the leadership and playing styles between 2015 and 2019 World Cup campaigns was stunning, but not jarring. McCullum’s boisterous passion kicked in a much-needed adrenalin shot to the jaded system and Williamson’s considerate approach has been influential in sustainability.
David vs Goliath
Former England captain Mike Atherton termed the upcoming match-up between India and New Zealand a classic David vs Goliath duel. New Zealand has a population of close to five million, the least among the top 12 ICC nations. Virat Kohli has a net worth of over $100 million, while Williamson earns a salary of around $236,000. Simply put, the gulf between the two countries and cricket economies is staggering. If anything, this made New Zealand’s rise even more heart-warming. “Cricket is back on the front pages of newspapers,” Mills says. History is calling, and the Kiwis are all ears.
new source: indian express