New Zealand, The Rebuilding Dark Horses

Jimmy Neesham, BJ Watling, Brendon McCullum
2014 was an incredible year for New Zeland - here Jimmy Neesham, BJ Watling and Brendon McCullum enjoy their Test series win over India
©REUTERS / Action Images
 

An inspirational skipper, a rookie already considered one of the best next-gen batsmen in the world, a team that always, yes always, punches above its weight in keeping up with the tradition of the Black Caps and an amazing year behind them – New Zealand move into the 2015 World Cup, which they are co-hosting, as one of the dark horses and teams to watch out for.

New Zealand’s 2014 wasn’t inundated with cricket. Nine Tests and 16 ODIs almost seems puny in comparison to the amount of cricket played by teams like India, Sri Lanka or even Australia.

Nevertheless, their evolution as a team, throughout the year was steady.

New Zealand’s upward curve, in many ways, overlaps with that of its talismanic skipper Brendon McCullum, one of the game’s most noted underachievers.

The keeper-batsman, one of the game’s greatest fielders wielding a dashing bat with no obvious weakness against pace or spin, except for his own uncontrollable urge to smash anything round and hurled at him from his presence in disdain, made 2014 his own year, in the process benefiting his team too.

New Zealand won five out of their nine Tests, drawing two, with a win-loss ratio of 2.5, far higher than their overall record of 0.5. They won a series against India at home 1-0, won against the West Indies away, 2-1, drew against Pakistan 1-1 away, after Pakistan had just bludgeoned Australia and then rounded off their year with a big win against Sri Lanka at home.

It was a wonderful year that featured many record partnerships and innings from New Zealand, but perhaps the one that stands out was their win by an innings and 80 runs against Pakistan in their bastion at Sharjah, a match totally set up by a McCullum blitzkrieg, mourning his dear friend Phil Hughes’ loss, a match where New Zealand came up with the unbelievable gesture of not bowling a single bouncer.

New Zealand’s ODI performance in 2014 wasn’t bad either. They won a series against West Indies 2-1 and humiliated India, reigning world champions and a permanent fixture at the top of the ICC ODI rankings for a long while now, 4-0, only tying a single match.

2014 - New Zealand's annus mirabilis

TESTS

Feb: beat India 1-0 (home)

June: beat West Indies 2-1 (away)

Nov: drew with Pakistan 1-1 (away)

Dec/Jan 2015: beat Sri Lanka 2-0 (home)

ONE-DAY INTERNATIONALS

Dec 2013/Jan: drew with West Indies 2-2 (home)

Jan: beat India 4-0 (home)

Oct: lost to South Africa 2-0 (away)

Dec: beat Pakistan 3-2 (away)

TWENTY20 INTERNATIONALS

Jan: beat West Indies 2-0 (home)

Mar: won 1, lost 3 at the ICC WT20 (away)

July: drew with the West Indies 1-1 (away)

Dec: drew with Pakistan 1-1 (away)

They lost two ODIs against a strong South African outfit but came back in style to win 3-2 against Pakistan, away from home, capping the year with an overall record of nine wins and five losses in 16 matches.

What is exhilarating about the Black Caps is that they are not a one-man team. In the ODIs, Kane Williamson, one of the most exciting young talents in cricket, leads their charts with 770 runs in just 12 innings. However, Ross Taylor, Ronchi, Guptill and Anderson, all have more than 300 runs, outscoring their captain McCullum.

Williamson is second only to his skipper in the Test batting charts, with 929 runs that includes four centuries. McCullum has 1,164 runs with four centuries. New Zealand have quite a few other batsmen with centuries and half-centuries, 14 from six players and 18 from nine players in total respectively, making them an all-round team.

Their bowling seems to be in decent hands too. Trent Boult leads with 34 wickets at 28.58 apiece in nine Tests, followed by Tim Southee and Mark Craig who have 33 and 26 apiece respectively.

All-rounder Corey Anderson is also one of their top ODI bowlers with 17 wickets with Matt Henry, topping with 19 wickets in just six matches at 15.26 apiece.

New Zealand aren’t still as strong or versatile as they were at their peak in the Martin Crowe era, under whom, they bulldozed their way into the 1992 World Cup semi-finals, before losing to eventual champions Pakistan.

However, with games at home, and their team in good form, this could well be the year of the Black Caps, for cricket as has been proven many a time, is more of a team game than an individual one.

When it comes to pulling together as a team, diving and pushing for the team, who better than New Zealand to do it?

© Cricket World 2015