Black Caps devotee Michael Appleton assesses the chances of cricketing glory as the side begins its season in the United Arab Emirates.
The Black Caps’ new season starts in the UAE tomorrow morning. Between now and late March, they’ll play eight test matches, 14 ODIs and seven T20s against Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh. But all this cricket is mere prelude to the big event: the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England starting on 30 May.
Two of the most emotional days of my life were spent watching on TV Cricket World Cup semi-finals from Eden Park in Auckland. As a nine-year-old in 1992 in suburban Wellington, I cried desperate and bitter tears as Inzamam-ul-Haq robbed us of what should have been our first World Cup final. Twenty-three years later, sitting in my office in India, I cried tears of ecstasy when Grant Elliott smashed the South Africans out of the 2015 World Cup – and sent the Black Caps to their (ill-fated) date with destiny at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Is it time for the Black Caps to go one better? I think we have a genuine chance of winning our first World Cup next year. But, then again, I always go into Cricket World Cups thinking New Zealand has a chance. Is there any basis for my bullishness this time?
Our historical World Cup record is not as good as it seems. Across 11 editions of the Cricket World Cup, we have only failed to advance from the group stage twice. That seems pretty impressive. But if you look at our actual win/loss record against other test nations at the World Cup, our performances are revealed to be far more modest. Indeed, if you remove our (very strong) results from the two World Cups we played at home, then you end up with Won 23, Lost 27. Nothing to write home about.
So, what’s the case for being bullish about 2019? One argument is that our current Black Caps side has a much better record than any of its predecessors. If you break our one-day history into five-year blocks, the current (post-2015) period stands out as by far our best.
Since January 2015, the Black Caps have won 49 one-day internationals and lost 28 – i.e. they’ve won 64 percent of completed ODIs. This has pushed us to third in the ODI rankings, behind only England and India.
The next best periods in our history were the early 1980s (when we won 56 percent of completed ODIs) and from 2005 to 2009 (when we won 54 percent). In every other five-year block from 1980 onwards, we lost more games than we won. The nadir was the decade of misery from 1985 till 1994, when we won 56 ODIs but lost 90; that is, we secured victories in only 38 percent of our ODIs.
Another reason to be bullish is our reputation at being relatively good at handling English conditions. The Black Caps’ record backs up this reputation. While we have won almost half of our ODIs in England (25 out of 51), we have done far worse in other parts of the world. In India, we have won only 18 out of 56 ODIs; in Australia, 38 out of 103; in South Africa, 12 out of 36; and in the West Indies, 11 out of 27.
The one thing standing between my expectation that the Black Caps will do well in 2019 and outright confidence is the new, untested coach/captaincy combination that will be only nine months old when the World Cup takes place. Our 2015 campaign was so successful because Brendon McCullum and Mike Hesson knew when to throw caution to the wind. Without that playing style, it’s extremely doubtful we would have defeated a very talented South Africa in that epic Eden Park semi-final. If placed in a similarly testing situation in a knock-out match next year, will Kane Williamson and Gary Stead have the courage to take the necessary risks to beat a team that might, on paper, be better than us?
I asked McCullum, the talisman of our 2015 campaign, what he thought about next year’s World Cup. Did the Black Caps have a genuine chance of winning it? ‘I believe they have a huge chance in this World Cup,’ he replied. ‘What will be the key is for the Black Caps to execute their style of cricket under the most pressurised of situations; keep their combinations simple throughout the tournament; and enjoy the occasion of playing in a World Cup.’
His advice to the Black Caps: “Get out and enjoy the UK, see the sights, play some golf and genuinely embrace the surroundings and the history of the grounds. On the field, there will be a nice mix of youth and experience and the wickets should suit them with both bat and ball.”
He concluded: “It’s an exciting opportunity. To me they are a semi-final team and from there it will be about which world-class players can stand up on the day.”
Agreeing with both the bookies and the ODI rankings, McCullum said he was most wary of England. “Eoin Morgan has them flying.”
My son, Samraj, was born at Wellington Hospital in February this year while the Black Caps were playing a T20 international against England across town at Westpac Stadium. In a decision that should have had my wife filing for divorce – but thankfully didn’t – I thrust a livestream of the match’s final over in front of Samraj’s wee face minutes after he was born. The Black Caps beat England by twelve runs; ever since, I have considered him a cricketing good luck charm.
Next year will be Samraj’s first Cricket World Cup. Hopefully it’s also the Black Caps’ first title, perhaps via a defeat of England in the final at Lord’s.
Michael Appleton is currently on parental leave from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. His last posting, in New Delhi, coincided with the 2015 Cricket World Cup.
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