Eight consecutive series wins on their own turf since the last time they lost a Test, to South Africa in 2017, have been the cornerstone of New Zealand’s surge to No 1, which was completed with a series hammering of Pakistan on Wednesday in Christchurch.
In an imbalance that should embarrass international cricket chiefs, they have been involved in just three assignments overseas in the same period; most recently crushed 3-0 by Australia last winter, they also drew 1-1 in Sri Lanka after edging a thrilling three-match series versus Pakistan in the UAE in late 2018.
New Zealand are limited to two and three-match series, due to their lack of global appeal, but you can only win the fixtures put in front of you and their successes in alien conditions show the team’s versatility is developing under captain Kane Williamson.
Predecessor Brendon McCullum was lauded for his leadership, primarily for an onus on attack. In Williamson, New Zealand have a more pragmatic wearer of the armband but one on at least an equal footing given the Enzedders results across all formats.
The ‘barest of margins’ defeat by England in the 2019 World Cup final at Lord’s denied a country of fewer than 5million people their first global title and the 30-year-old’s dignity in the face of losing on a boundary count spoke volumes of the man.
New Zealand have risen to the top of the world Test rankings for the first time
Williamson is a no-fuss character who leads by example, and one who has taken batsmanship to a new level for New Zealand. Martin Crowe and Glenn Turner, previously recognised as the best produced by the land of the long white cloud, averaged either side of 45, while Ross Taylor’s career number is a tad under 46.
Williamson’s average of 54.31 is below that of this era’s other greats — Aussie Steve Smith and India’s Virat Kohli — but can be talked about on the same level.
Only just 30, he is arguably hitting his peak years with an appetite for big scores unsated. His last three Test appearances have produced innings of 251, 129 and 238 — a sequence that has taken him, like his side, to the summit of the ICC rankings.
Pace to burn
When it comes to pace, the Black Caps have every base covered. Tim Southee and Trent Boult swing the new ball from right-arm and left-arm angles respectively, and they are backed up by the hostility and heart of Neil Wagner, who bowled through the pain of two broken toes for wickets against Pakistan.
Get through those examinations, and the bowler with the most impressive start to a Test career in 121 years awaits.
The Black Caps completed a series hammering of Pakistan in Christchurch on Wednesday
Kyle Jamieson’s swift rise has seen him collect 38 wickets in six matches (only players from the 19th century can better his bowling average of 13.27) and the concern for batsmen around the world is his assertion that: ‘I still feel like I’m a long way off the cricketer I want to be.’
At 6ft 8in, and capable of touching 90 miles per hour, Jamieson’s most natural weapon is the throat ball. And given his extra bounce, opponents cannot take liberties on pitches that offer seam movement. His emergence means there is no respite — the 26-year-old is one of only five bowlers since 1900 to have a strike rate of under 40 balls per wicket in Test cricket.
And to think Matt Henry, leading wicket-taker in the 2018 County Championship when he took 75 wickets in 11 matches for Kent, and Lockie Ferguson, whose searing pace lit up the last World Cup, wait in reserve. Yikes.
If there is a chink in the armour, it is in the spin department, with Mitchell Santner no more than a holding bowler.
Fast bowler Kyle Jamieson, who is 6ft 8ins, has taken 38 wickets in just six matches
When will we see them again?
English audiences will get to witness New Zealand’s qualities first-hand this summer, one way or another.
The assumption was that the final of the World Test Championship, to be hosted in England in June, would be between Australia and India.
However, with the top two engaged in a series in which they are denting each other’s points percentage with every passing match, and India hosting fourth-placed England next month, New Zealand look poised to gatecrash the party from their current position of third.
If that does not materialise, in the absence of Joe Root’s team pulling off something miraculous in Asia, they will play a two-match series against England in midsummer instead.
Kyle Abbott yesterday became the first Kolpak player since Brexit to return to play domestically in South Africa when he signed for the Titans.
The 33-year-old’s contract with Hampshire will revert to overseas status following the UK’s departure from the EU, a move which no longer allows Kolpaks to participate here as locals.
Like other Kolpak players, Abbott turned his back on international cricket to pursue county riches.