New Zealand played 7 Tests, 20 ODIs and 8 T20Is in 2017
New Zealand played 7 Tests, 20 ODIs and 8 T20Is in 2017

New Zealand are the perpetual bridesmaids of cricket. They play, they compete, but seldom dominate over an extended period of time. There have been some amazing shows like the 1992 World Cup, 2000 Champions Trophy and 2015 World Cup, but as a side they haven’t been a force, especially in Test cricket. They continue to keep big teams on their toes. They continue to pull off the unexpected with ease. They continue to falter when the money is on them. In a nutshell, they continue to be New Zealand.

In his 2016 review for the Black Caps, my colleague Aditya Sahay had mentioned that New Zealand had a bumpy ride that year. Their new-look side was then trying to create a niche for themselves after the Brendon McCullum era.

Has 2017 been any different? They remain sharp students of the game. The passion and spirit they play with continue to win hearts. Kane Williamson’s boyish looks don’t reveal his feisty nature as a batter and leader.

Williamson, now 27, isn’t as aggressive as McCullum, but he cannot be written off as meek replacement. The results haven’t changed much.

Mike Hesson has remained coach since 2012. He has been the calmness constant for the Kiwis amidst the transition in 2016. Players adore him. He has helped the side maintain the uniformity amid the leadership change.

Quoting a few lines from my assessment of New Zealand from their India tour in October and November: “The men from the picturesque southern hemispheric nation are not your regular superstars who will infest the city billboards. But they will play cricket the way it should be played. Brendon McCullum has retired, and there’s no Jesse Ryder. New Zealand are eluded of the ‘wow’ factor. You will never say ‘the future of Kiwi cricket looks bright’, but they will manage to surprise you illuminating with the four Cs of their brand of cricket — calmness, consistency, commitment and competitiveness.”

 The four Cs were omnipresent in their approach.

 Black Caps in the whites

New Zealand did not have a very competitive year when it came to Tests. All the three series that they played were in home.

They let Bangladesh pile up 595 for 5 at Wellington. Remember, the attack had Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner and Mitchell Santner. Basin Reserve has a reputation for witnessing big partnerships involving wicketkeepers. Remember McCullum and BJ Watling in 2013-14 and Williamson and Watling in 2014-15?

Shakib Al Hasan (217) and Mushfiqur Rahim (159) had put up 359. Bangladesh came within sniffing distance their greatest cricketing moment. Then Latham’s 177 got New Zealand to 539. At stumps on Day Four, Bangladesh were 66 for 3.

Day Five turned around the Test. Just a sniff was what it was for Bangladesh. Skipper Mushfiqur had to be stretchered off the ground after struck by a Southee bouncer. As Mushfiqur fell, so did Bangladesh’s fortunes. They were shot out for 160. New Zealand chased down the target in the 40th over thanks to Williamson’s 90-ball unbeaten 104. New Zealand had won a Test after conceding almost 600 in the first innings.

The second Test was closely fought as well. Bangladesh were hit by Mushfiqur’s absence. Southee and Boult combined to claim 15 of the 20 wickets. New Zealand marched to a 9-wicket win to pocket series 2-0.

South Africa toured New Zealand. Southee was ruled out. A classic at Dunedin was marred due to rain. Dean Elgar’s 140 took South Africa to 308. Williamson’s 130 helped New Zealand to 341. Elgar kept battling in the second innings too, with 89. South Africa were reduced to 224 for 6 as they led by 201 runs.

The Day Five was washed out. A classic was denied.

Southee returned at Wellington, but New Zealand lost Ross Taylor and Boult to injuries. Keshav Maharaj claimed 6 wickets. South Africa completed a win within 3 days.

Despite no Boult, Southee and Taylor, New Zealand dominated the Hamilton Test. Matt Henry’s 4-for and Williamson’s classic 176 placed them in a favourable position, but rain gods had other plans. New Zealand lost a Test series at home 0-1. A bit of luck and the results could have been different.

New Zealand’s next Test assignment came 8 months later when West Indies toured. New Zealand were favourites but West Indies had won a Test in England and had beaten Pakistan earlier.

Neil Wagner, with a 7-for, and Colin de Grandhomme with a record 71-ball hundred (the second-fastest by a New Zealander) smashed West Indian hopes. Adding salt to the wound was debutant wicketkeeper Tom Bundell’s century. West Indies fought back in the second innings but the efforts weren’t good enough to prevent an innings defeat.

West Indies had done well at Hamilton to reduce New Zealand to 312 for 9. Southee and Boult then deflated their soul with bat. New Zealand managed 373. Boult followed his 27-ball 37 not out with 4 wickets to finish West Indies at 221. Then Taylor joined his captain and mentor Martin Crowe to register 17 Test hundreds. New Zealand declared at 291. Chasing 444, West Indies were cleaned up for 203.

New Zealand in Tests, 2017

P W L D
7 4 1 2

Won series against Bangladesh and West Indies. Lost series to South Africa. Finished the year at No. 4 in ICC Test Rankings.

Best Batsmen

Players M R HS Ave SR 100s 50s
Kane Williamson 7 566 176 62.9 66 3 2
Jeet Raval 7 475 88 43.2 44 0 4
Tom Latham 7 457 177 45.7 52 1 2
Ross Taylor 5 408 107* 81.6 63 1 3
Henry Nicholls 7 377 118 41.9 54 1 3

Best Bowlers

Players M W BB Ave SR Econ 5WIs
Neil Wagner 7 36 7/39 25.5 46 3.34 1
Trent Boult 5 27 4/64 24.8 47 3.15 0
Tim Southee 4 18 5/94 30.8 53 3.47 1
Colin de Grandhomme 6 11 3/52 37.5 83 2.71 0
Matt Henry 2 8 4/93 26.1 53 2.98 0

Mixed run in ODIs 

It all began with a 6-run victory at Eden Park. Marcus Stoinis played one of the greatest ODI knocks. Chasing 287, Australia were 68 for 6 at one stage. Then Stoinis followed his 3 for 49 with a maverick 146 not out off just 117 balls with 11 sixes. Williamson then ran out Josh Hazlewood as New Zealand went one up in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.

Kane Williamson commiserates Josh Hazlewood after running him out at Auckland © AFP
Kane Williamson commiserates Josh Hazlewood after running him out at Auckland © AFP

 The second ODI at Napier was washed out, which meant Australia had to win at Hamilton to retain the trophy. Taylor’s hundred took New Zealand to 281 before Boult’s 6-for decimated the Australians. New Zealand’s ODI journey in 2017 began with winning the trans-Tasman rivalry by reclaiming the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.

The South Africa challenge was going to be steeper, now that the visitors had AB de Villiers in their ranks.

Hamilton hosted a rain-marred contest. South Africa needed 208 from 34 overs. Quinton de Kock provided the platform with 64-ball 69. South Africa were struggling at 156 for 6 in the 27th over but they had AB at the crease. AB’s brilliance and good support from Andile Phehlukwayo saw South Africa clinch the thriller off penultimate ball. New Zealand tasted a bite of their bitter medicine that they made South Africa swallow in the semi-final of the 2015 World Cup.

Taylor scored a hundred at Christchurch and helped New Zealand secure a 6-run win. New Zealand surrendered meekly at Wellington after AB slammed 85 and the bowlers did the rest. Now was New Zealand’s turn to return favours.

Another AB blitz helped South Africa to 279 for 8, this time at Hamilton, but Martin Guptill walloped the Protean bowling. The 280-chase was a cakewalk courtesy Guptill’s 180 not out off 158 balls.

 Eden Park, the same venue for the 2015 World Cup semi-final, had geared up for the decider. Unfortunately, it turned out to be anticlimactic. New Zealand disappointed as they folded to 149. South Africa marched to a series win.

AB de Villiers wins the Hamilton ODI for South Africa © AFP
AB de Villiers wins the Hamilton ODI for South Africa © AFP

New Zealand were up against a very good side. They had their moments but were against a stronger side and injuries didn’t help a lot.

Champions Trophy

In bid to prepare for Champions Trophy, New Zealand played a tri-nation series in Ireland, entirely in round-robin format. New Zealand tested their bench strength. They won 3 out of the 4 games to gather maximum points and won the tournament. However, they suffered a defeat in hands of Bangladesh in the last game. 

Year-ender 2017: Pakistan continue to remain Pakistan amidst highs, lows, farewells, controversies, debutants, and history
Year-ender 2017: Pakistan continue to remain Pakistan amidst highs, lows, farewells, controversies, debutants, and history

Latham was leading the side. He smashed 84 and there were fifties from Neil Broom and Taylor to take New Zealand to 270. Tamim Iqbal, Sabbir Rahman, Mushfiqur and Mahmudullah combined to guide Bangladesh to a 5-wicket in the penultimate over. It was just the start of things to come.

New Zealand began their Champions Trophy campaign with a lot of promise. They had reached 254 for 3 in 39 overs against a full-strength Australian bowling that boasted of Mitchell Starc, Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and John Hastings. Williamson was then run out for 100 and a collapse ensued. Hazlewood went on to claim a 6-for as New Zealand were bowled out for 291.

Kane Williamson slammed a hundred against Australia in the Champion Trophy © Getty Images
Kane Williamson slammed a hundred against Australia in the Champion Trophy © Getty Images

Incessant rains had shortened the game. Australia were set 235 from 33 overs (DLS revised target). They were reduced to 53 for 3 after 9 overs when skies opened again. The next revised target, 174 from 20 overs, seemed more difficult. They needed 121 more runs from 66 balls with 7 wickets in hand, and the New Zealand bowlers had their tails up. The rains did not stop and as a result points were shared. New Zealand were unlucky here.

New Zealand and England met at Cardiff. The last time the sides had met in an ICC tournament was the semi-final of 2016 World T20, where England had emerged victorious. Strictly talking of ODIs, the sides had met in the 2015 World Cup group match where New Zealand embarrassed England: Southee claimed a 7-for and later McCullum would blaze to an 18-ball fifty.

Joe Root top-scored at Cardiff as England were bowled out for 310. Williamson kept the Kiwis in the hunt. However, his side showed no fight after he departed for 87 and collapsed for 223.

Australia were denied a win against Bangladesh as this time they fell victim of the rain rule. Bangladesh had lost to England.

New Zealand met Bangladesh at Cardiff for the all-important match. Taylor and Williamson got fifties. Bangladesh bowled tight lines at the death to restrict New Zealand to 265. Southee picked 3 wickets and Bangladesh stared a big defeat at 33 for 4 in the 12th over.

What happened next was one of the most resilient acts in ODI history. Shakib and Mahmudullah slammed centuries each as they sewed 224 for the fifth wicket. Bangladesh emerged victorious with 16 balls to spare. New Zealand, the tournament champions of 2000, were knocked out in the group stage.

New Zealand's defeat in hands of Bangladesh ended their Champions Trophy campaign © Getty Images
New Zealand’s defeat in hands of Bangladesh ended their Champions Trophy campaign © Getty Images

Australia’s defeat in the hands of England resulted in Bangladesh’s qualification. India and Pakistan met in the final with the latter beating the odds to win the tournament.

Luke Ronchi retired meanwhile. New Zealand handed the gloves to Latham in shorter formats. He was pushed to the middle-order.

Four-and-a-half months later New Zealand arrived in Indian shores for a limited-overs series. Australia had been recently walloped by the hosts 1-4. Kohli’s 121 at Mumbai saw him go past Ricky Ponting’s tally of 30 ODI hundreds. Southee was expensive but accounted for 3 scalps including Kohli’s but the star of the show was Boult, whose 4 for 35 included the wickets of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya. India were restricted to 280.

India had gained upper hand when Guptill fell in the 18th over, reducing the visitors to 80 for 3. Latham, batting down the order now, played the sweep to great effect, a weapon much needed in India to counter the spinners. Taylor (95) and Latham (103*) added 200 for the fourth wicket as New Zealand marched to a surprise win.

Tom Latham and Ross Taylor swept New Zealand to a win against India at Mumbai © AFP
Tom Latham and Ross Taylor swept New Zealand to a win against India at Mumbai © AFP

In the last two years, India have battered all oppositions at home. With the Mumbai win, New Zealand had made it 3-3 in India in a year’s span. The under-pressure India marched to a comfortable win at Pune making the Kanpur clash the decider. 

Rohit (147) and Kohli (113) added 230 for the second wicket. India gained the upper hand by putting up 337 for 6. New Zealand did not give up. Colin Munro blazed to 75. Williamson (64) and Taylor (39) chipped in. Latham and Nicholls had got New Zealand closer. New Zealand needed 26 off 20 balls when Nicholls was cleaned up. An over later Latham fell to a run out after scoring a 52-ball 65. Bumrah’s brilliance at the death saw India steal a 6-run win.

Indeed, no side in the recent past have challenged India in limited-overs cricket like New Zealand.

New Zealand ended the year on a high note, whitewashing West Indies 3-0 at home under Latham. Doug Bracewell’s third drinking offence got him close to a jail term. Selectors had overlooked him all this while. However, de Grandhomme’s father’s death opened the doors for Bracewell, who marked his return to international cricket with wickets off back-to-back deliveries. The first one was of Chris Gayle. New Zealand did face hiccups in the chase but Taylor helped them cross the line.

Boult’s 7 wickets in the second ODI sealed West Indies’ fate. The third ODI was rain-curtailed. Taylor’s 47 not out helped the Kiwis to 131 in 23 overs. The shorter the game, the more dangerous West Indies typically are; unfortunately, they continued to disappoint, managing 99 for 9 from their 23 overs.

Boult's 7 for 34 is the 2nd best ODI figures for a New Zealander © Getty Images
Boult’s 7 for 34 is the 2nd best ODI figures for a New Zealander © Getty Images

The biggest positive for New Zealand in ODIs in 2017 has been Taylor’s sublime form and Latham’s newfound role in the middle-order as the side’s wicketkeeper-batsman. Also, Mitchell Santner continued to grow in the role of the lead spinner in the side.

New Zealand in ODIs, 2017

P W L NR
20 11 8 1

Won series against West Indies. Won tournament in Ireland involving the hosts and Bangladesh. Lost series to South Africa and India. Were eliminated from the group stage in Champions Trophy. New Zealand finished the year at No.5 in the ICC ODI Rankings. 

Best Batsmen

Players M R HS Ave SR 100s 50s
Ross Taylor 20 968 107 60.5 82 2 7
Kane Williamson 14 596 100 42.6 85 1 5
Tom Latham 15 546 104 39.0 85 2 3
Martin Guptill 9 384 180* 48.0 99 1 1
Neil Broom 14 382 79 27.3 85 0 3

 Best Bowlers

Players M W BB Ave SR Econ 5WIs
Trent Boult 16 31 7/34 24.6 28 5.27 2
Mitchell Santner 18 26 5/50 26.4 34 4.60 1
Tim Southee 14 17 3/45 43.4 44 5.88 0
Adam Milne 7 10 3/79 32.2 34 5.71 0
Lockie Ferguson 6 8 3/17 33.4 35 5.68 0

Munro rises, New Zealand slip

New Zealand’s New Year began with a win over Bangladesh at Napier. The visitors had limped to 141 for 8 and New Zealand won with 2 overs to spare. Williamson slammed a 55-ball 73 not out while de Grandhomme supported with a 22-ball 41 not out. 

The next two matches were played at Mount Maunganui. Munro’s 54-ball 101 paved New Zealand’s path for a series win. In the final game, Corey Anderson’s 41-ball 94 not out powered the hosts to 194. Bangladesh put up a better fight and fell short by 27 runs.

Colin Munro's 1st T20I ton of the year © Getty Images
Colin Munro’s 1st T20I ton of the year © Getty Images

The next challenge was steeper. South Africa ensured they would leave Auckland with happier memories. Imran Tahir resulted in a big win for South Africa. Boult deserves a mention though. South Africa blazed to 185 and Boult finished with exceptional figures of 4-0-8-2. Mind you, he bowled in the Powerplay overs and at death.

New Zealand’s next challenge was against India, a side they had never lost to in T20Is. They had just lost the close-fought ODI series. The arena from Kanpur had shifted to Delhi. The limelight was on Ashish Nehra playing his final game.

Rohit (80) and Dhawan’s (80) 158-run opening stand propelled India to 202. New Zealand managed 149 and in doing so, lost their first-ever T20I against India.

New Zealand drew level at Rajkot. Munro slammed his second T20I hundred in the year as New Zealand put up 196. Boult with a 4-for triumphed over the Kohli-Dhoni threat.

Thiruvananthapuram made its international debut. Rains had reduced the affair to an 8-over contest. New Zealand did well to restrict India to 67 before stumbling to the Bumrah hurdle. Once again, Bumrah (2-0-9-2) swung a nail-biter decider in India’s favour with his guile and calmness. New Zealand lost the series 1-2 and fell from the No.1 spot in the T20I Rankings.

The last challenge for New Zealand in T20Is this year was against West Indies at Nelson. Fifties from Munro and Glenn Phillips and a late surge from Santner took New Zealand to 187. Then the bowlers took over. Debutant Seth Rance picked 3, as did Southee, as the hosts achieved a win by 47 runs. 

The win helped New Zealand topple India in the Rankings at go to the No. 2 spot. They are a point away from Pakistan. A series win next week can see them at the top again.

New Zealand in T20Is, 2017

P W L NR
8 5 3 0

Won series against Bangladesh. Lost series to South Africa and India. Won the final game of the year against West Indies.

Best Batsmen

Players M R HS Ave SR 100s 50s
Colin Munro 8 277 109* 39.6 164 2 1
Kane Williamson 7 206 73* 34.3 114 0 2
Tom Bruce 8 138 59* 23.0 129 0 1

Best Bowlers

Players M W BB Ave SR Econ 4WIs
Ish Sodhi 6 11 3/36 14.6 12 7.31 0
Trent Boult 6 11 4/34 16.4 11 8.57 1
Ben Wheeler 4 5 2/16 23.2 17 8.18 0

New Zealand have enjoyed decent runs across formats. At the same time, they have faced disappointments. It will not be fair to judge them for their Test series defeat against South Africa. At the same time, there is nothing to go gaga over their wins against Bangladesh and West Indies at home.

They have steeper challenges ahead when they face a rejuvenated Pakistan and England at home.

Way ahead

It is important for New Zealand to start building for 2019 World Cup. Conditions at home aren’t too different to those in England. The Champions Trophy was a reality check. Williamson and Hesson partnership has done reasonably well but the skipper needs to build a personality for the side.

Taylor’s coming to form is a huge boost but at the same time New Zealand need a larger pool of players to choose from. New Zealand A have produced good performers but the challenge remains to unearth talents from a nation with just four-and-half million people who swear by rugby.

The management is doing fine in trying to mould Phillips in the McCullum frame. Latham’s resurgence in ODIs is a positive.  In Wagner, Bracewell, Milne, Henry and Ferguson, they have good bunch of pacers to back Boult and Southee. On the other hand, Mitchell McClenaghan opting out of New Zealand contract was a major blow this year.

Selector Gavin Larsen recently mentioned that cricket nowadays do not have place for bits and pieces players of his kind. Unfortunately, that was precisely what New Zealand had attained renown for. The hunt for the genuine all-rounder remains.

Santner has done well to fill the Daniel Vettori gap, but New Zealand are hunting their next Chris Cairns. Neither Anderson nor James Neesham has lived up to their promises yet.

In a nutshell, New Zealand have done what they have done since the beginning of time: won some, lost some, punched above their weight, got scared by lesser teams, fielded brilliantly, and remained a loved team.

They continued to provide entertainment and beat the odds, but have they scaled a level where they will be considered a serious and consistent threat? That’s the job ahead…