New Zealand cricket has been on a steady rise over the past half-a-decade. They played back-to-back World Cup finals in 2015 and 2019, and winning the inaugural WTC would certainly be their crowning glory.
To start with, a three-match World Test Championship (WTC) final is not a very smart idea. Finals are one-off affairs, which add to the intrigue. Both India captain Virat Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri are of the view that a three-match WTC final would be a fairer assessment of the two finalists. But there’s a two-year cycle that does the assessment, as top two teams reach the final. Finals are played for silverware and the team that plays better on the given day or over five days lays its hands on the trophy.
Even in tournaments that are played in league formats, finals are a one-off. The Champions League is played in league format during the group stage followed by home and away games in the knockout rounds. But the final is a one-off and it’s not played home and away. So New Zealand captain Kane Williamson was absolutely right, when he spoke about the unpredictability that a final offers.
After winning the WTC final beating India at Southampton, Williamson was asked about his take on a three-match final at the post-match press conference. “Yeah, I mean, I suppose the exciting part to finals is that anything can happen. We know how fickle cricket is and we have seen it in other competitions, in other World Cups and in all other bits and pieces,” the New Zealand captain said.
“I suppose there’s argument for both sides, and I guess the challenge would be scheduling,” he added.
Good that the International Cricket Council (ICC) is not going to have a three-match final in future editions of the WTC. A cramped Future Tours Programme (FTP) hardly allows that.
Coming back to New Zealand and Williamson, probably for the first time we saw that players didn’t run on to the field after winning a major tournament. In fact, the dressing-room was the place for the BLACKCAPS’ joie de vivre. Their win was classy and the celebration classier. Williamson has built the team in his own image where victory and defeat are viewed with equanimity. Two years ago, after the World Cup (50-over format) final heartbreak – they lost the match against England on boundary back-count and didn’t aim a dig at the ICC for not having a replay – New Zealand accepted the result gracefully. As he walked into the post-match presser, Williamson received a standing ovation. The WTC final win was the healing of a two-year-old hurt. Williamson and his men were grace personified. Williamson’s show of emotion was resting his head on Kohli’s shoulders. Class.
As former New Zealand medium pacer Simon Doull said on TV commentary: “Nice guys do finish first sometimes”. And when they do, to borrow from Neville Cardus, they honour their sport. “In terms of our team and our behaviours, we try and commit to what’s important to us. I suppose people can comment on that or tag us how they would like, but it’s not about being anything other than authentic to us as a group and the sort of cricket that we want to play and the behaviours that are important to us day in, day out,” Williamson said. One of the modern-day greats and a gentleman, the New Zealand captain oozes honesty.
New Zealand cricket has been on a steady rise over the past half-a-decade. They played back-to-back World Cup finals in 2015 and 2019, and winning the inaugural WTC would certainly be their crowning glory. Along the way, they have unearthed a gem, Kyle Jamieson. Since making his debut in February last year, the allrounder has taken 46 wickets in eight Tests at an average of 14.17. He has scored 256 runs also at a 42-plus average. A tally of nine wickets in seven matches in this year’s Indian Premier League, before the tournament was postponed, showcased in utility in unfavourable bowling conditions as well. But the biggest gain for New Zealand from this upward surge is that cricket has once again captured the imagination of a country of 5 million. As the players returned home, pictures showed fans, even immigration officials and security personnel, were waiting to take selfies with them. “What a team! Congratulations @blackcapsnz You’ve made us all proud…again! #worldchampions,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote in an Instagram post. As BLACKCAPS coach Gary Stead said: “Cricket is back on the front pages again.”
Hopefully, the team has done enough for the New Zealand Cricket to prioritise Test cricket. New Zealand usually play two-Test series and if reports are accurate, their cricket board doesn’t prefer a longer series. Test series in New Zealand is commercially viable only when India are touring. But this triumph should embolden the cricket authorities to hard-sell the game’s finest format. Yes, New Zealand’s time zone is an impediment in terms of having high global viewership, but the administrators can now be on the front foot while dealing with the broadcasters.
For the Big Three also – India, England and Australia – this is an opportunity if they really care for Test cricket. New Zealand are a fan favourite and more Test matches with them will be revenue-positive. In turn, it will make the game’s longest format healthier.