New Zealand hold their nerve throughout the final day to win the World Test Championship, owing as much to administrative foresight as to sporting ability.
Melbourne, Melbourne, Melbourne, Melbourne, Melbourne, Melbourne, Melbourne, Melbourne, Melbourne, Melbourne, Melbourne In London, it’s 2019 and there’s a lot of heartache. In the year 2021, in a sun-drenched Southampton, ecstatic bliss reigns supreme. Even as India proceeded to falter in knockout games, New Zealand, a team for which not even the most ardent Indian fan can feel anything but admiration, retained their nerve to win the global Test championship.
It’s easy to look at Wednesday’s eight-wicket victory as a romantic tale of redemption for the good people, as the night when the Cinderellas of world cricket didn’t have to leave in despair, but it would be insulting. This is a group of really talented athletes who are skilled, passionate, professional, driven, and disciplined, and who now know how to win.
On the last day, there was a moment from each phase that screamed out their fearlessness. In the morning, Kyle Jamieson ruled like Gulliver in the country of Lilliput. By bringing off Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, he eliminated India’s best prospects of a win and a draw, respectively.
When India sought to hold on for dear life in the afternoon, Neil Wagner had to deal with a soft old ball, but dug deep to uncover life on a sun-drenched ground that was at its best to harass with an awe-inspiring bumper bombardment and remove Ravindra Jadeja.
Trent Boult, who had been still throughout the game, stood up for the count when Rishabh Pant continued to tempt fate with a risky knock that seemed to be a self-parody of sorts. He was fortunate enough to catch Ajinkya Rahane with a down-the-leg-side strangle and maintained it there to assist Pant cancel himself. It wouldn’t have been enough if Henry Nicholls hadn’t made a fantastic grab running back from the gully to cling on to a tough swirler over his shoulder.
When Ravichandran Ashwin, as expected, dispatched the left-handed openers early in the chase, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor shown their ability to absorb pressure. It was not an easy task. Even Jasprit Bumrah, who had had an ordinary game, managed to rouse himself and unleash a probing spell right at the finish. Williamson and Taylor were set and primed for the greatest evening of their lives, despite Jadeja’s silence.
This isn’t going to be an overnight success. It is the culmination of nearly two decades of hard work for those who have been involved in New Zealand cricket.
When Williamson was five years old, New Zealand cricket underwent its most significant structural changes. It was the mid-1990s, and New Zealand cricket was lurching from crisis to crisis. Disciplinary concerns arose in the national team as well, but the structural issues were considerably more serious, and the sport’s followers were losing interest. There were crisis meetings, one of which became heated after the chief executive departed and furious disputes erupted, but New Zealand cricket through a soul-searching process.
The Hood Report of 1995 was a landmark report that recommended a complete revamp of the system. The governing structure was altered, and strategies were designed to boost the game’s fan base. Some of the adjustments were comparable to those proposed by Justice R M Lodha in the Indian context decades later.
In 1995, the old board of elected association representatives was replaced with a dispensation of independent members noted for their business and cricket skills, replacing the previous board of elected association representatives. They chose active intervention, a top-down strategy for revitalizing the grassroots. School cricket grew in popularity, infrastructure was improved, and funds were wisely invested. Williamson grew up in this system, and his ascension is as much about a revitalized system as it is about individual victory.
Immigrants have also contributed. The majority of the people are from South Africa. Every year, 10,000 South Africans arrive in New Zealand, a country with 60,000 migrants, in search of a better life. It’s no wonder that some people are enamored with cricket. BJ Watling, the scrappy boxer who last appeared in a Test match in Southampton, arrived in New Zealand when he was nine years old. Colin de Grandhome, the mulleted wonder, arrived while he was a teenager. Grant Elliot and Wagner felt the same way. Jamieson arrived while he was a small child. New Zealand’s system was prepared to support these individuals.
Williamson was distraught the last time he was in England at the end of an ICC final. He stood on the team balcony, staring at a distance, surrounded by his colleagues yet looking forlornly alone, as the ODI World Cup had just slipped from his grasp.
This isn’t the case. Taylor remained at his side until the very end. Taylor is likely to retire from international cricket this year, and the two have shared anguish in different parts of the globe. But there they were, clutched in an emotional hug mid-pitch on a rare sunny English day — a poster for posterity.