91 years, 446 Tests and 280 Players! That’s how much New Zealand have had to wait to become the #1 Test Team, but fittingly it came at a time when the Blackcaps possess what might be called the best bunch of cricketers it ever did in the modern era. But how did this ultimate Test status come about?
New Zealand is a small country with a population of 4.5 million and cricket fares much behind rugby in terms of the popularity. This is the reason why in spite being a major Test nation the achievement hasn’t been significant.
New Zealand’s first day in Test Cricket was January 10, 1930.
This was almost 91 years ago. In the initial years they were mauled by big brothers England and Australia and later by South Africa and West Indies.
It took them 26 years to win a Test match and it was only by 1980 that they were able to put up a team which was able to challenge the rest of the world. But despite all the effort New Zealand’s image of good boys who punched above weight was hard to erase.
A transformation was needed. Rather, a change in outlook. And it came.
The change started to occur when Brendon McCullum overtook the captaincy in January 2013 wherein he changed the brand of cricket the New Zealanders played.
There was aggression but never in an over the top avatar.
When Kane Williamson took over, he continued with same style. Some might call it mild-mannered aggression.
Others could call it Williamson being the glue around whom an entire unit sticks and does so strongly.
Rare are sites where nearly every player plays the anchorman.
For India- think of Virat, Rohit and Rahane. Where it concerns the Proteas- it’s either Faf or Elgar or on occasions where consistency isn’t measured, then the newly-appointed Test skipper Quinton de Kock.
But what about this captivating winged creature of cricket meant to foray toward further skies?
For all these years, there’s been a certain Ross Taylor.
But occasions where even he or Williamson’s bat went quiet- Tom Latham stood up.
It’s a team where, you must remember, when Boult goes quiet, Southee stands up and vice-versa, and more often than not, both fire in tandem.
Moreover- when neither are able to breach past the batsman’s gate- a Henry and Wagner deliver.
In an era where the discussion so heavily rests with proven matchwinners in Starc or Bumrah, the Kiwis’ wings gather flight thanks to a brilliant duo comprising Boult and Southee that must, in all sincerity, be equally credited as other names we hear all the time.
This is the reason in past few years New Zealand have achieved huge milestones:
They reached to Two World Cup Finals in 2015 and 2019 and were unfortunate not to win in 2019.
They became no. 1 in Test Rankings for the first time in their 91 history.
So, what has been the rise of New Zealand to its no.1 ranking?
Home Domination: New Zealand’s rise has not happened overnight they have been consistently performing over a period of time. Since 2013 they lost only two Test series at home and out of which one was almost a draw.
Top Countries Home Record 1.1.2013 to 6.1.2021:
Improvement In Away Record: New Zealand have been improving as a Test team, however the most significant reason why they have topped no.1 ranking is their win against Pakistan in UAE and against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. These wins have signified that New Zealand’s overseas performance also keeps on improving. The only blot on their recent record has been 0-3 loss in Australia in 2019-20.
A Top-Class Bowling Attack: New Zealand had some great names in bowling like Sir Richard Hadlee, Shane Bond, Daniel Vettori but unfortunately, they have to carry the whole attack on their shoulders. For the first time in their history New Zealand had three world class bowlers in their attack at same time. Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner’s consistent performance in past 5-6 years have been a reason why New Zealand have been one of the top three teams consistently before topping the charts. The arrival of Kyle Jamieson have given the attack an edge which might be handful when the team will tour abroad.
A Strong Batting Line up: New Zealand always had a decent batting line up however it didn’t have some great names at same time. In Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson, they have two of the greatest batsmen of all time while BJ Watling at no.6 have given solidarity and can be termed as New Zealand’s finest wicketkeeper ever. With Tom Latham at top and Henry Nicholls at no.5 they have two young dependable batsmen.
The Allrounders: Colin de Grandhomme might not be threatening but he is modern day allrounder who is decent in both batting and bowling without being exceptional. His presence at the bottom has ensured that New Zealand bat till 7 and with handy medium pace he could get vital breakthrough. While he missed the current season, but his replacements Mitchel Santaner and Daryl Mitchell has performed amicably. The allrounders have been vital cog in New Zealand’s rise to no.1 status.
What to look for:
In spite of the fact that New Zealand had reached to no.1 the challenge will be how long they can be there. For this they have to start winning in places where they have least impressed. They need to win in India where they have won just 2 Tests and last one came in 1988, in Australia where they won in 1986 and against South Africa against whom they have 1-8 home record.
Whether they will be able to achieve these feats or not only time will tell but until then let us sit back and enjoy this special bunch of cricketers till they are around and applaud for what they have achieved.