The mighty, the weak and the inconsistent
On one hand, we have the mighty torch bearers that include India, Australia and South Africa. On the other hand, for their horrendous inconsistencies, a stark contrast to their glory days, we have the Windies and Pakistan, who predominantly reserve in bold their name in the firing line of well-earned criticism.
On a third hand, England often find themselves in the often mocked compartment of Cricket's talented but flawed opposition. Of course, they have Cook, Bell, a newfound “Root cause of their opponents' troubles” and a certain man called Jimmy; but just think of it: had they not won the Ashes would we, the psychotic and often greedy lovers of the game, have spared them from our caustic tongue-lashings?
On yet another hand, we must not forget that Sri Lanka, who many would reckon best fit the mighty-torch-bearer category, haven't really been considered torch bearers of cricket, hence they fail to make the true legend mark, despite their genius show in all departments of the game. Glory, one feels, has often been sub-let to other nations that world cricket regards as its true giants.
New Zealand- Cricket's confusing geometry
Amidst the hype and the hoopla of modern cricket, where does New Zealand stand? Rather, what fragment of cricket's imagination has New Zealand cricket painted its canvas with, as it continues to contest with all international sides, be it Australia, West Indies, Zimbabwe or their current opponents- South Africa? If the picture attributed to Australia or India is that of a superpower or juggernaut, at times rewriting cricketing records, then certainly cricket's least understood side must also be demanding a template: New Zealand!
Does it have a geometry and if yes, then where do its triangles of efficiency meet? Just what do its circles of greatness present in terms of a full picture? It isn't easy to ignore New Zealand cricketers. This promising country has strangely remained stuck in this cage termed as ‘promise’ and whose exploits of late inspire many.
New Zealand Cricket: A paradox balancing on great work ethic and mesmeric talent
Now, many would ask, has New Zealand cricket actually taken to the skies? Cricket has its own language of admiration, and its heroes continue to be painted on canvasses that lust for ecstatic colors. In sketching New Zealanders, their paintbrush inspires some thinking, rational opinion-making that tidily distances itself from flattery but at the same time warrants praise purely on the output of effort.
This is a team that boasts the lofty standards of their work ethic. A close knit unit, they are a side where the folks hailing from the hot water springs of Rotorua, the icy cool turfs of Dunedin and the lush green outfields of Basin Reserve surrender their personal egos and come to raise high the Kiwi flag. For them, team achievement trumps personal triumph at all times whilst they battle on the field, ever reminiscent of their gritty Rugby contesting brothers. They are easily the fittest, most agile and, perhaps one would think, the most ably balanced cricketing side, where the exuberance of youth and the experience of veterans are reflected in their recent score charts.
Talking statistics definitely emancipates their less understood and highly unassuming brand of cricket from the clutches of oblivion and paints an optimistic picture. From June 2014 to June 2015, they have won 5 test matches out of 8 and 19 ODI's out of 31, all played with determination and brilliance.
The Kiwi Show at the celebrated World Cup
Their recent triumphs in one day cricket also feature the wonderful victories in Cricket's great carnival: the ICC World Cup 2015. It was a contest that was, in every sense, held by New Zealand, given that not only were they the co-hosts alongside Australia, but literally held the world’s heart till they handed over the cup to Australia in the finals, something that many thought was theirs to win.
In a one sided battle, and the rare occasion where they didn't smoke their opponents, New Zealand's batting, which had been brilliant throughout the World Cup, let them down. They lost only a single match in the entire tournament, the final stage of the tournament that they decorated with extraordinary brilliance.
During most of their games, New Zealand seemed like a 22 man unit instead of 11, with each player doubling up as an able fielder, untiring soldiers on the field dashing everywhere in a quest to save a single from being run and reducing a near boundary to a couple. Their batsmen became pinch hitters and the pinch hitters stayed on to the see through the crucial stages of the game.
Who can forget Martin Guptill's stunning belting of the hapless West Indies in their quarter-final encounter? What was to be an important game became a slaughter of the Windies who were left marred by Guptill's big hitting double hundred. Middle order batsman Grant Elliott, who was pretty much a non-entity in their playing eleven prior to the World Cup, held on to an end in the semi final and final games. While his was the solo hero effort in the crucial face saving New Zealand total that failed to put even 200 on the board in the final, his merciless hitting of Dale Steyn in the highly anticipated semi final game saw the biggest threat in their way being bundled out like a stack of pins.
Who would have thought New Zealand would chase down a staggering 299 in that nail biting match with captain and marauder McCullum being dismissed cheaply? Reaching the grand final cannot be rendered complete without pasting Corey Anderson's mighty frame in New Zealand's winning template. His important 58 during their chase vs Proteas in that semi final can be regarded as a must see knock for learning the importance of composure and concentration, long regarded as the tenets that have truly defined New Zealand's game.
Rescuing New Zealand from their grand paradox
Talent, they have aplenty and application, they have in abundance. Then how is it that we didn't see the New Zealanders standing ecstatic beholding that winner's trophy?
It is quite unthinkable that a side which has a captain with the flair and flamboyance of Brendon McCullum lost the final, perhaps the most important one day international they played and also the saddest one. Despite their great form throughout the tournament, they were beaten by arch rivals Australia.
It would be the only time that they have ever played in World Cup's ultimate stage. But it wasn't all that sad, for they drove the world to the edge of the seat with the way they contested, battled and trumped South Africa at the semi final. The picturesque moment of Grant Elliott, who had sent a Dale Steyn half volley outside the park, lifting the great pacer from the crease by extending a hand of comfort and warmth truly displays Cricket as the gentleman's game, and New Zealand its silent heroes. Never short in displaying emotion and expressing it.
They weren't ungraceful in accepting their defeat, and were first to offer a hand of support to the mighty Proteas, whose dreams they had put to death in a cricketing funeral watched by millions worldwide.
A side with talent and age on its side
It is quite fascinating to note that we reserve our greatest adulation for New Zealand in the context of its heartbreaks, of what could have been. Such is the consequence of losing to Australia in the recent World Cup final.
At the same time, it is amazing to note that a side that is the most promising, consistent and potent in its skill, zeal, and desire to perform to their best ability is bustling with young talent. Thanks heavens, this talent found an able platform and purpose to direct its efforts instead of lying unutilized.
Their star performers with the ball in the ICC World Cup, and much of the last year, have been Trent Boult and Tim Southee, both 26. While Boult already has 132 wickets from 32 tests, Southee has a combined tally of 270 wickets. Guptill, their frontline attack against the opposition is 28, nowhere near his peak and closing on 6000 international runs. Big hitting Ross Taylor is no stranger to cricket fans, who can take heart from the fact that their hero is just 31. Similarly, their star batsman Kane Williamson, whose amazing feats include an unbeaten 242* and 9 other test centuries along with a batting average of 48 in ODIs, is only 25.
But to top them all, a herculean pillar of strength and the able defender of New Zealand's pride: Brendon McCullum, star batsman closing in on 12000 international runs and the terror of world class bowlers with an ODI strike rate of 95, is 34 with a couple of years of cricket still remaining in those burly shoulders.
New Zealand, for its admirable exploits on the pitch, has literally owned the big stage. It has been New Zealand's summer and its players are far from the autumn of their youth.