After going toe to toe against the best, New Zealand bust the punching above their weight cliché


New Zealand’s Tim Southee, centre facing camera, celebrates the wicket of India’s Shreyas Iyer with his teammates during the day four of their first test cricket match in Kanpur, India, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

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Shared News: December 2, 2021 7:45:30 am
The last time New Zealand were in India to play a Test series five years ago, they had lost 0-3, by 197 runs in Kanpur, 178 runs in Kolkata and 321 runs in Indore. Ever since that humbling, Kane Williamson and his men have constructed the finest Test record among all teams – 22 wins, just six defeats and seven draws for a win-loss ratio of 3.67, which is quite some way ahead of second-placed India’s 2.28 (32 wins, 14 defeats, eight draws).

We talk about how hard India are to compete against – forget getting beaten – at home; they have lost just two of 26 home Tests since that 2016 New Zealand series. Here again, consider that the Kiwis themselves have lost just one match out of 23 home Tests in the same period.

Even away from home, there isn’t much to choose between the two deserving inaugural World Test Championship finalists. India had 13 wins, 12 losses and three draws in the past half a decade, while New Zealand have five wins, 5 losses and a couple of draws.

The only difference here, of course, is that New Zealand have played fewer than half the number of away Tests India have. Even Bangladesh have got five more away Tests than the World Test champions in the past five years.

Even allowing for pandemic-related cancellations and postponements, you would think the world’s No. 1 ranked Test team might be in more demand to tour. But New Zealand will never be the box-office draws India are all around the cricket world with their gigantic market and following.

Unfortunately, a population of five million with rugby having first dibs on attention and talent will always struggle to buy you clout off the cricket field.

Perhaps the least we can begin doing is to abandon the condescension behind the use of the ‘punching above their weight’ term that has become almost synonymous when describing what New Zealand do on the cricket field.
You are not punching above your weight if you make three finals in three world events in three different formats in three years. You are not punching above your weight when you are beating Pakistan in the UAE, India at home, England in England and India again in the WTC final on neutral soil. You are being consistently world-class across conditions and formats (the notable exception coming against big brother Australia), something that is incredibly hard to pull off and maintain.

And it is not only the Williamsons, Southees and Jamiesons who are pulling their team out of trouble and hauling it into good positions. A debutant at No. 8 and No. 11 resisted the might of Indian spin for more than 50 balls on day five to force a stalemate in Kanpur.

You generally get the rare draw in India either because the weather is bad or the pitch is dead. If neither is the case, as it usually is, spin wins.

As Rachin Ravindra said after his 91-ball vigil at Green Park, “Kane also mentioned it, not many teams lose the toss and are able to steal a draw (in India).”

His fellow saviour, Ajaz Patel, expanded on their approach. “We just spoke about looking to play the ball as straight as possible,” Ajaz said yesterday. “If it goes past the outside edge then it goes past the outside edge. But so long as we’re keeping the stumps out of play and getting (the bat) out in front of the pads, that was the most important part.”

An explanation whose application by No. 11 – with almost the entire fielding unit breathing down his neck — would have made a specialist batter proud.

Or consider the fact that wicketkeeper Tom Blundell played as many as 132 deliveries in Kanpur, but what most will remember is the freakishly unlucky dismissal to R Ashwin in the second innings and the unfortunate shooter from Axar Patel in the first.

Blundell’s preparation for this tour involved batting on surfaces that had rugs placed or gravel strewn to simulate the variable bounce of Indian pitches. Quietly, solidly at it, under the radar, another phrase often associated with New Zealand.

Their coach Gary Stead had perhaps described it best ahead of the 2019 World Cup final. “You can play a par 4 in golf and you can hit it down the middle and then the second one you hit to the middle of the green and you two putt and get a 4. So it doesn’t really matter how you get there,” Stead had said.

“Or you can hit your driver off the tee and it goes into the rough. Get the next one into a bunker. You can flop onto the thing and sink a 20-foot putt and it’s still a 4… At times we have shown the ability to do it the second way and that is important.”

Consistency, reliability, resilience, getting on with the job without fuss; call it what you will, it is a lot more than punching above one’s weight. And it has now given them the chance to push for their first series win in India.