@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read
After winning the World Test Championship, New Zealand’s greatest-ever Test side is assured of a special place in history. Yas Rana looks at what lies ahead for them.
You can make a reasonable argument that New Zealand are international cricket’s Leicester City. In 2016, Leicester were crowned Premier League champions despite possessing inferior resources and financial might than the competition’s usual title contenders. In 2021, New Zealand pipped Australia and England – two of the game’s big three – to a spot in the inaugural World Test Championship final and on the biggest stage of them all, triumphed over India to become the tournament’s first champions.
In truth, the comparison runs a bit thin. This was no flash in the pan, 5000-1 shout. This is the logical peak that New Zealand have threatened to reach for some time. Runners up in the most recent two World Cups, semi-finalists in the most recent T20 World Cup and simultaneously world champions and the world’s number one ranked side in Test cricket, they have as strong a claim as anyone to be the world’s standout cross-format set-up.
And while Kane Williamson’s place in the pantheon of all-time greats is assured – he now averages an extraordinary 53.95 in Test cricket – he is the sole genuine superstar New Zealand have, the only player who would undoubtedly stroll into any side in the world.
That is not intended to demean his teammates. New Zealand’s greatest asset as a side has been their collective strength. Their first choice side consists of a top six who all average around 40 or more, an adaptable all-rounder who gives the side balance and a frontline quartet of quicks with complementary avenues of attack.
And even in the event of injury, as displayed in the recent Edgabston Test, they have a reserve of Test-ready replacements ready to jump in at a moment’s notice. To put it simply, there is no weak link. If you were to judge a side by its weakest link, this New Zealand side is right up there with the best sides of the last 30 years.
So then, what next? There will be some who will quibble with New Zealand’s current status as the best Test side in the world. After all, they were brutally dispatched by Australia in Australia 18 months ago and we have little idea of how they would fare on a tour of India, something they last did five years ago.
Their trip to India this winter provides a real opportunity for New Zealand to dispel those doubts. And they’re better equipped to challenge the very best abroad than ever before; the recent additions of Devon Conway and Kyle Jamieson have taken the side to another level entirely. Jamieson in particular looks capable of reaching Williamson-esque levels of dominance – he appears to have all the required ingredients to challenge the very best batsmen on all surfaces.
In the post-match press conference Virat Kohli made the fair assertion that longer Test series are more memorable and thus more fondly remembered while arguing that the World Test Championship final, in an ideal world, ought to be a three-Test series. The irony is that New Zealand’s perception as a world-leading side is hindered by how infrequently they contest longer series.
Of course, this is not a fault of their own but more a worrying symptom of the game’s warped economic structure; it is desperately sad that the financial realities of the game deprive audiences of the sight of the sport’s champion side displaying their might in all conditions in the way supporters want to see. In the near future at least, it’s hard to envisage Williamson’s team having the opportunity to beat the likes of India and Australia in a five-Test series either at home or abroad in the kind of series that could elevate them to another level entirely.
For a side like England, for whom scarcity of Test cricket is not yet an issue, there is always a potentially era-defining away series around the corner; for New Zealand, that is not nearly the case – it is one of the World Test Championship’s great strengths that it offers sides like New Zealand the chance to demonstrably show their worth.
But focusing on the controllables, there still room for this side to progress further; a marquee overseas win over the likes of Australia or India, which they are more than capable of doing should be the next target for a side that’s had to overcome so much already.