x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Very few shades of grey for New Zealand cricket this season

The Black Caps have had an up-and-down past few months on and off the field, yet they seem to have found a knack of winning against the best sides, writes Osman Samiuddin.

Brendon McCullum, left, is at the helm of a very spirited New Zealand cricket team at the moment. Nigel Marple / Reuters
Brendon McCullum, left, is at the helm of a very spirited New Zealand cricket team at the moment. Nigel Marple / Reuters

Has there been a more schizophrenic team in cricket over the past 18 months or so than New Zealand? Or maybe the correct question is whether there has been a more fascinating side to follow than New Zealand?

Probably not, which is some achievement given that cricket is not over-blessed with functional, stable sides, at present.

Pakistan may have been for a while (they were even whitewashed in South Africa in Tests without any major recriminations/fall-outs/splits/deaths/fixing scandals), but madness is never far away there.

Similarly, Sri Lanka and West Indies totter permanently on the edge of some kind of calamitous cliff; financial, administrative, structural, anything.

Last year England had text-gate and let us face it, as long as Kevin Pietersen is around something always will be going on.

Australia's entrance to this club of the shambolic – and they have fairly barged in, have they not? – on this tour of India is perhaps the greatest generator of current cricketing schadenfreude.

For so long they have lorded over the game with an impeccable infrastructure in place, the right priorities within their administration, great spirit within the side, role-model cricketers.

And now Homeworkgate has not only made them look silly but the accompanying 4-0 whitewash in India has left them looking worse than even Pakistan after one of their especially disastrous away tours.

But their neighbours across the Tasman? New Zealand are doing some truly, wonderfully bizarre things right now.

Previewing England's Test series there earlier this month, The Guardian's evocative Mike Selvey wrote of an underlying instability in New Zealand.

"New Zealand is a country that lives on the edge of seismic disaster. Beneath its surface it rumbles and grumbles before every so often exploding into volcanic rage. It is a perfect metaphor for the country's cricket."

They have been trolling depths off the field.

Mike Hesson, the coach, claimed that he forgot to tell Ross Taylor that he wanted to remove him only from the limited-overs captaincy – and not across the board. But that was only the cap on a period of administrative zaniness. Forget the decision itself, which did not have the greatest logic behind it, but the manner of its handling?

Yet, off the field they have been oscillating wildly; if they have gone through the depths the administration has brought on, they have also hit heights in spite of the administration.

Sure, they were bowled out for 45 in South Africa, but they all but whitewashed the ODI series.

More remarkably, they have completely turned form on its head in this current Test series against England, in which they currently stand far closer to triumph than defeat. If they win, it will be the most remarkable Test result since England's loss to Pakistan last winter.

It will not be undeserved either. If they were a little fortunate with the rain in the second Test in Wellington, they bossed the first in Dunedin and are doing so again in Auckland.

Forget the result here. Brendon McCullum has been good as captain. They have got some good fast bowlers coming through. Jesse Ryder may return and Taylor's form (temporarily, unsurprisingly, gone) will, too.

So if it has been fascinating so far, it might only be the beginning.


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