At the 1st England-New Zealand Test at Lords in May 2015, Brendon McCullum walked in as Ross Taylor walked out. He drove the 1st ball to the ropes. It wasn’t just McCullum’s statement. It was New Zealand making the statement. It wasn’t a new one but the reaffirmation. Many already knew what he and his side had accomplished over the past two years but yet some thought – how he dare a test match at Lords. And that was the captain’s answer.
Conditions differed, situations weren’t the same, opposition changed in time. But what remained the same was their approach.
2015 has been a great year for New Zealand cricket. The year will be etched in everyone’s memory for many a reason, the most prominent being their World Cup final appearance in Melbourne.
They started off their year with a clinical Test victory over Sri Lanka at home, reached the World Cup finals for the first time, drew the Test series in England, lost to Australia away but finished with another home series win over Sri Lanka. These are numbers, but numbers alone mean little. They don’t reveal what is underneath – their progress and the path taken.
At Christchurch, in the inaugural match of the World Cup, Thirimanne and Sangakkara were doing a decent job chasing the Kiwis’ 332 until Boult was brought back for his 2nd spell. Boult – in search of some swing – had gone for some runs initially but that didn’t stop him. His first 2 overs in the second spell cost the side 15 runs. But McCullum persisted with Boult. He had already gone for 47 runs in the course of his 7th over, but again that didn’t stop him from going full and trying to swing the white ball. In the space of 2 overs Boult accounted for the well set Thirimanne and Sangakkara with swinging full length deliveries. In the same spell as he finished his 10 overs he had gone for 64/2. If you look at his bowling figures now, score card won’t reveal its impact. But the spell was the signature of the Kiwi’s intent in the matches to come. The spell was reminiscent of their approach.
Two years ago after their shameful defeat at Newlands, newly appointed captain McCullum and coach Hesson sat together to start afresh. “We looked at each other and sort of went, ‘Well, we’ve got that out of the way, let’s strip everything away and start again,’” McCullum told the New Zealand Herald late last year. “We decided that we couldn’t win every game, but what we could do is change the way we played and the attitude towards us and the attitude within the group ... Players changed, players’ personalities and behaviours started to change,” he had said in the same interview.
The resurgence started then has borne fruits in the last two years and 2015 is another year in the right direction.
At the World Cup match against England at Wellington, McCullum had slips in a never ending arc. Southee bounced and yorked the English. He swung it from uncomfortable angles backed by the captain who knew only one language – attack. When he came out to chase he smacked them to all corners. New Zealand had arrived and tremors were felt.
All of a sudden people started to talk not only about the results, but the manner in which they went about their business. To attack with the new ball, to attack with the spinners, to attack with slips in the middle overs, to chase every ball that whizzed past them, to smash the opposition in the power plays and everything else they did on the field was very highly spoken of. It was evident that the Kiwis would play hard and make it bloody tough, as McCullum had said, no matter where the game stood. There wasn’t a moment where they left the game slip by.
Commentators were amazed at how every move that they preached, sitting in a commentary box, was being implemented on the field. Critics were left speechless as the usual advice they would give post-match was already in place. There wasn’t much to say but praise. The Kiwis had taken the World Cup by storm and not one soul was dissatisfied who watched them play.
Had McCullum and Hesson not thought about changing their approach and attitude towards the game, cricket would have lost this New Zealand side, a team which provided us with many a memorable moment to be cherished over the last three years. Many feared after the public spat over the removal of Ross Taylor as captain, and what followed at Newlands, that New Zealand was nearing its nadir. But wise heads proved otherwise.
The language this side decided to make its own isn’t short of any risk, because what separates caution and aggression is a very thin thread. At Leeds this year in the 2nd test, Taylor walked in at the fall of Williamson at 23/2 with England threatening to seal the test series, but he batted with refreshing freedom and positivity. The momentum of the match had changed with his run a ball 48. Though a lot of hard work went behind that historic victory, it was that brisk innings that provided the momentum shift.
But aggression doesn’t guarantee success. The same aggression which brought them victory at Leeds didn’t help when McCullum went wildly after a full ball from Starc in the 1st over of the World Cup final. But what it does is breed positivity in the team and encourage you to come up with goods when in doubt. It has brought New Zealand cricket back.
For the last 2-3 years New Zealand has played such an exciting brand of cricket that it made cricket beautiful to watch. The fact that it didn’t fail, but helped them reach the World Cup finals, makes this year New Zealand’s. Every cricket fan thanks them for the cricket displayed.