2013 in review: Black Caps' ride ends in giddy heights

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 28/12/2013
Ross Taylor
Getty Images

THRICE IS NICE: Ross Taylor racked up his third century in as many test matches, the first New Zealander to do that since 1972.

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It began with one of their darkest days, and ended with an overdue warm glow.

New Zealand's cricket team rode the rollercoaster to its highest and lowest points for the duration of 2013; dismissed for 45 by South Africa on the second day of the year then wrapping up a dominant 2-0 test series win against West Indies three days before Christmas, in Hamilton.

As they prepare to host powerhouse India next month, and approach the one-year countdown to their co-hosting of the World Cup, the New Year will dawn with a sense of anticipation and optimism, rather than the dread of a year previous.

The same can also be said for Ross Taylor. New Zealand's premier cricketer began 2013 feeling humiliated and isolated after the way in which he was removed as skipper. He'd considered quitting and opted out of the South Africa tour. Fast forward 12 months and Taylor sits fourth on the world batting rankings, having plundered 866 test runs at 72, just five short of John R Reid's New Zealand record for a calendar year.

Seemingly at peace and in that zone occupied by few, Taylor batted over 20 hours in the series and notched centuries in successive tests in Dunedin, Wellington and Hamilton as he plundered 495 runs.

December certainly helped put a positive spin on another up and down year for the Black Caps, who won two of their 12 tests and seven of their 16 completed ODIs.

Brendon McCullum had a brutal initiation into the captaincy; winning the toss in Cape Town then watching his team routed for 45 by South Africa's Dale Steyn-led pace attack. It was their third-lowest test total, and worst effort since that dreaded 26 against England in 1955.

Back-to-back innings defeats were followed by a turnaround in the one-dayers as New Zealand pinched a 2-1 series win, thanks to a dominant Kane Williamson century and some big wickets from a new pace bowling find, Mitchell McClenaghan.

England's tour was much anticipated and McCullum led strongly and batted powerfully. New Zealand lost the T20 and ODI deciders convincingly, then on docile test pitches went within one wicket of an upset series victory in a gripping finale in Auckland to leave it 0-0. They'd also had the upper hand in Dunedin, after Hamish Rutherford's debut 171.

The return series saw a confident New Zealand make a lively start and Tim Southee bag 10 wickets at Lord's, before another rapid collapse for 68 against Stuart Broad's pace when chasing a tantalising 239. The scars reopened at Headingley as Graeme Swann spun England to a 2-0 victory. Their test batting remained a work in progress against quality pace.

A breathtaking 189 not out by Martin Guptill at Southampton saw New Zealand win another ODI series 2-1, against England, but they disappointed at the Champions Trophy when looking genuine contenders.

After a narrow scrape against Sri Lanka, New Zealand missed the semifinals after falling 10 runs short against England.

Bangladesh again proved an unhappy tour for New Zealand where sluggish conditions and feisty opponents was a battle too far. After two drawn tests on lifeless pitches, they lost a second successive ODI series there, 3-0, and lost McCullum (back) and Williamson (broken thumb).

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The subsequent series at the tail end of Sri Lanka's monsoon season passed by with barely a ripple, with the ODIs shared 1-1.

The West Indies arrived fresh from a hastily arranged series in India and it showed as New Zealand plundered 609 in the first innings in Dunedin. Taylor's highest test score, 217 not out, was the highlight but his double was matched by West Indies batsman Darren Bravo before rain foiled New Zealand's chase for 112.

The drought of 10 tests without a win for McCullum and coach Mike Hesson burst in Wellington with another Taylor ton and a 10-wicket bag for Trent Boult.

Taylor and pacemen Boult and Southee all ended the series carrying the "world-class" tag. Boult took 20 wickets at 15.40 and Southee 18 at 18.11 in a display of high-quality swing bowling as the tourists showed little resistance. The new ball duo were high on the world charts at series end; Boult third for 2013 with 46 wickets and Southee equal ninth with 36.

Gifted batsman and crowd puller Jesse Ryder was in the news on and off the pitch, firstly for more sinister reasons. In March, he suffered a serious assault outside a Christchurch bar which left him in a coma in hospital, then as he recovered he received a six-month ban for testing positive to a banned substance in weight-loss tablets. But he made a fresh start with Otago, the runs flowed again and he was selected for the West Indies ODI series, 22 months since his previous international.

In the boardroom there was better news, too. Therese Walsh, head of the New Zealand arm of the 2015 World Cup organising committee, secured the country half the pool matches, a Wellington quarterfinal and Auckland semifinal.

It was much more than forecast as Australia's larger stadiums and population were expected to see them dominate the split.

Interest in the tournament leapt in New Zealand, and Christchurch provided the feelgood story when Hagley Oval was confirmed to host the tournament opener to welcome back top-level cricket there after the 2011 earthquake.

The under-fire NZC board, chaired by Chris Moller, was disbanded and a new constitution introduced. Board nominees applied instead of being nominated, and former chief executive Martin Snedden, bowling great Sir Richard Hadlee and another former international, Geoff Allott, added the top-level playing nous that was lacking.

And the tumultuous time of former Australian coach John Buchanan was at an end.

Buchanan was hired by former chief executive Justin Vaughan and became gradually marginalised under David White. It didn't help Buchanan's cause that he backed Taylor in the ugly aftermath to Hesson's decision to change the captaincy, which led to Buchanan's revealing quote in January.

"The reality is . . . that things like integrity, trust and accountability doesn't reside consistently, or constantly, within our organisation."

A few months later Buchanan, and the man he hired as national selection manager, compatriot Kim Littlejohn, were back across the Tasman looking for new employment.

NZC continued its move towards involving former top players when Bruce Edgar was named as Littlejohn's replacement to work alongside Hesson.

- The Dominion Post

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