28 Jan 2018

Time to celebrate Black Caps' 'depth and versatility'

3:09 pm on 28 January 2018

By Matt Richens*

Let me first address what I call the "Sky is falling brigade"; the Black Caps' thumping loss to Pakistan this week was not worth losing sleep over and it definitely wasn't worth firing up your trolling Twitter account to get stuck in.

New Zealand players celebrate a wicket.

New Zealand players celebrate a wicket. Photo: Photosport

It was the side's worst performance of the season, sure, but Pakistan finally played well and it was one of those Twenty20 games where the visitors got the early momentum and Kane Williamson's men got further and further behind trying to wrestle it back.

It happens and teams often get thumped in a risk-it-all kind of approach that they have to implore; there's no time to rebuild an innings and when you're chasing 202 to win, you just have to keep going.

But there is so much to like about what the national side is doing at the moment. So much, in fact, that if you're going to celebrate the negativity of one loss and ignore a 13-game winnings streak, that says more about you than the cricket.

Yes the West Indies were poor and yes Pakistan have struggled, but this is 50-over and Twenty20 cricket - underdogs win all the time.

Massive upsets happen and for the Windies to get blanked and a very good Pakistan team to lose an ODI series 5-0 is big.

The glass-half-emptiers will quickly point to how the opposition played and with the West Indies that might be worthy of something, but why is it so hard to celebrate when we're going well and to give credit to a good New Zealand side? Do we think it makes us arrogant to say we played well. Are we afraid of being called cheerleaders?

Well I am a cheerleader; I want the New Zealand cricket team to do well. I grew up as a fan and, despite a few years there covering them warts and all as a day-to-day cricket writer, I still want them to do well.

It's not a sign of weakness to say the side is playing well, it doesn't make us "just like the Aussies" as I've seen written by a few.

The Black Caps are playing great cricket. They dominated the West Indies and though they were weak, Williamson's merry men smashed them.

Pakistan have really struggled at the top of the order, but a big part to that is the good bowling they've faced. The Pakistani top order have wanted to dominate and impose themselves and their swashbuckling style and they just haven't been able to. Some might suggest they need to be a bit more tentative at the start, but when they've tried that Trent Boult, Tim Southee and co were too good anyway.

The 13-game streak has been more about the strength of the Black Caps than the weakness of the opposition and it's not an aberration.

Dominance at home is something we think of for Subcontinental teams, Australia and England, but it's now a Kiwi thing too.

In the last three home seasons, we've lost just three of our 14 Twenty20 fixtures and are 15 of 18 in completed ODIs. Now before the negative Nellys bring up the strength of the opposition, the ODI side is two from two against Australia in that time, have swept Pakistan and had a series against South Africa.

It's the depth and versatility of the side which should be most exciting and most celebrated. There are talented, capable and proven players in every position - in all three formats - champing at the bit to get a run and should they be given a chance through form, rest and rotation or injury, there's nowhere near the worry of a dip in ability there once was.

And - much more than we've ever been - we're a team for all conditions. The batting might need work for a few, but our spin and quick bowling is arguably the best it's been for subcontinental conditions while also dominating at home while, in all three formats, the sides have more world class players than they've been able to boast for a long time.

Mike Hesson might not have a side as dominant as the All Blacks, but his plan of developing great depth is exactly the same as his mate Steve Hansen and it's worked just the same.

So while some happily trumpet the 48-run loss to Pakistan on Thursday as the beginning of the end, I'd be surprised if it were anything but a blip on an exciting upward trend.

*Matt Richens has been a sports writer for 12 years. He once scored more in an inter-school game than Brendon McCullum did in the opposition. Richens still dines out on it, McCullum doesn't remember.

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