New Zealand clinched the number one position in the ICC Test rankings for the first time in history after beating Pakistan in the second Test at Christchurch.
New Zealand hold the world record for playing most matches (44) before winning their first Test match. In fact, no other team has gone winless for so many Test matches at any point in their history. In a career spanning from 1946-47 to 1965, Bert Sutcliffe, one of New Zealand’s greatest batsmen of all time, was never part of a winning side. He played 42 Tests – the longest career for anyone without tasting a Test match win.
New Zealand’s ODI record – the 2000 Champions Trophy and back-to-back World Cup finals – do not sound too bad. Unfortunately, they have not been quite as proficient in Test cricket. Until the end of the 1960s, their only achievements were two famous drawn series.
The first was on the famous 1949 tour of England, where they did not lose a single Test or any match against a county. They finished the tour with 14 wins and 20 draws in 35 First-Class matches, their solitary defeat coming against Oxford University. Walter Hadlee’s 1949ers were the first top-quality New Zealand side. Then, in 1961-62, John R Reid’s men drew the series in South Africa after being down 0-1, then 1-2.
Their first real achievement was on the tour of the subcontinent, when Graham Dowling’s men drew 1-1 in India. They should have won the decider at Hyderabad: India were 76/7 in the fourth innings when it rained, and some utter incompetence from the ground staff prevented any play from happening when it stopped. They followed it with a 1-0 win in Pakistan.
But the highest point in their history until the mid-2010s came in the mid-1980s, when they won 2-1 in Australia and 1-0 in England in the span of less than a year. With Australia undergoing a transition, England going through a trouble phase, and India just coming out of winless phase, New Zealand suddenly found themselves competing with Pakistan for the spot of the No. 2 side, just behind West Indies.
With 52 wickets at 15.21 and 204 runs at 29.14 from 6 Tests, Richard Hadlee was the chief architect of these wins. Martin Crowe got 515 runs; John F Reid scored a hundred at Brisbane when New Zealand won a Test in Australia for the first time; Bruce Edgar got four fifties in five innings; John Bracewell got 13 wickets and seemed impossible to get out; and Ewen Chatfield bowled with metronomic precision at the other end when Hadlee went on rampage.
But the euphoria did not last long once Australia found their footing back. New Zealand cricket lost their way somewhere in the 1990s. While they did win the occasional series – in England in 1999, in West Indies in 2002, in 2014, and against Pakistan in the UAE in 2018-19. While the last of these was special, it was also their first win in a major nation outside West Indies in the 21st century.
That does not seem very special – unless you include the draws. In the new millennium, New Zealand have drawn series in Australia (2001-02 and 2011-12), England (2015), India (2003-04), Sri Lanka (2003, 2012-13, and 2019), and – even before that win in 2018-19 – against Pakistan in the UAE (2014-15).
But it was the last two wins, pooled in with their amazing streak at home, that propelled New Zealand to the top despite their 0-3 defeat in Australia. New Zealand’s recent run at home – eight consecutive series wins (10 out of the last 11, 14 out of 16) – makes incredible reading.
What is also impressive is the margin by which they won these series. Over this period, they have won 24 Tests and lost 3 at home, and none of their 3 defeats have come in the series they won. In other words, when they have dominated a series, they have ensured the visitors never got a chance to hit back.
And then, the margins of win. Nine of New Zealand’s 24 wins have been by an innings, six by over 100 runs, and seven others by 7 or more wickets. In other words, as comprehensive as possible.
Of all batsmen with over a thousand runs since the beginning of 2018, there are four New Zealand batsmen in the top fifteen and two bowlers in the top seven.
Given the success of Wagner, Southee, and Boult (and, of late, Kyle Jamieson), it may seem that New Zealand’s bowling success has been entirely dependent on the trio. While their fast bowlers have thrived at home, New Zealand have used spinners to great extent in the subcontinent.
When they went to the subcontinent in 2018-19, New Zealand did not hesitate to play two uncapped spinners in the UAE and stick to them in Sri Lanka. Then, the moment they were back in the seam-friendly, familiar conditions at home, they did not hesitate to axe them from the side, preferring the all-round skills of Mitchell Santner instead.
Despite being almost absent during the subcontinent tours, Santner played 5 Tests at home – and did as good a job as any spinner in New Zealand. Neither Santner nor Colin de Grandhomme ran through sides, but between them New Zealand had a fourth bowler to share the workload of Southee, Boult, and Wagner.
As is evident, between them they had more than done their bit in the lower middle-order or the stock bowler role.
And finally, a word about Kyle Jamieson, whose career tally stands at 36 wickets after 6 Test matches. For perspective, it should suffice to say that Shane Bond is the quickest among New Zealanders to 50 Test wickets – and it had taken him 12 Test matches. His average and strike rate are close to the top – and we are talking of all Test cricket, starting 1877.
To make things worse for the opposition, Jamieson is also a handy lower-order batsman: he has batted six times, his lowest score is 20, and he averages 56.50.
Still early days, but there is little doubt that Jamieson’s career has got off to a spectacular start.
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