OPINION: The New Zealand cricketing summer of 2013/14 is a vintage so rich that it can be bottled and stored alongside the best that this country has ever produced.
When the West Indies arrived here in December last year I sensed a lethargic glance from the majority of the cricket-watching fraternity in this country in anticipation of viewing another up and down season. None would have expected to see what unfolded and how beautifully the game of cricket was to be played by Brendon McCullum and his men.
The players I will get to, but coach Mike Hesson, who has grown into the role as the summer has evolved, must sit back and take considerable credit for the navigation of his side this summer and well done to him for this. I stated previously that in front of the media Hesson always seemed unsure and prone to skittish comments. I do believe the Ross Taylor/McCullum rift cut deep and it's likely Hesson harboured considerable baggage from his knowledge of those events. But when Taylor and McCullum embraced during the first test in Dunedin during both men's wonderful hundreds, some professional demons were laid to rest and Hesson must now relax and continue on his own style of management.
Taylor started the summer in sublime form and is the catalyst for what has occurred at our cricketing venues and watched in our living rooms. Taylor's batting against the West Indies was as good as I have seen for a New Zealand player. The maturity and discipline puts him now among the world's best. It was this avalanche of runs that set the tone for what others needed to aim for. It raised the bar internally among the team and gave players context on what was required and how to go about it. Taylor was simply magnificent.
Kane Williamson is the person who will have gained the most from Taylor. Consistently chiming in with Taylor to produce match-winning partnerships, Williamson will now have goals that he can push higher for. When Williamson finishes the game he will be our leading run scorer in all forms. A big call but one I am happy to make. He is unflappable, plays equally well off both front and back foot, and his quiet strength will do him well in tough times - a place which all players travel to occasionally.
The bowlers were all lion-hearted and in Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Kyle Mills and Mitchell McClenaghan, the New Zealand bowling unit piled on considerable pressure throughout the summer. Some of the bowlers play one format but Southee needs to be singled out as he plays all forms and is the hub of the attack. Southee is producing superb consistency and will keep getting better. Shane Bond must be congratulated for his work and it is evident that there is strong competition for places but a camaraderie evident and this is something special.
Luke Ronchi and BJ Watling can both be extremely satisfied with their output. Ronchi for the way he has taken his chances and shown the rest of us what his team-mates always believed. Watling was also sublime and a player anyone would want in their side. He goes about his work without fuss and when the chips are down he fights harder.
The new talent on display has come in droves but Corey Anderson and Jimmy Neesham excite me the most. Both have different skills and must push each other throughout their careers in a friendly rivalry. New Zealand will be the winner more often than not if these two men are on the same team sheet.
Peter Fulton, Jesse Ryder and Hamish Rutherford all have need for reflection and Martin Guptill can be extremely happy with his contribution. Ryder needs to work out if cricket and being part of something special is for him; I expect it is and we'll see him back. Fulton and Rutherford must score heavily in the Caribbean to retain the faith the selectors have shown.
And so to the captain, a player who I believe has been unfairly misread by sections of the media throughout his career. Their assessment permeates as though it is the majority view but I never really believed it was. McCullum no longer needs to validate himself. He is a fighter and does so with huge pride. His first test century against the West Indies in Dunedin gave him breathing space and he paced that innings well. The way Taylor and Williamson were playing throughout the summer made McCullum's lack of runs at times a non-issue as the team were winning. His cameo in the Hamilton ODI to secure the series win against India got him back on track.
Don Bradman, Walter Hammond and McCullum are the only men to have scored a double century and a triple century in successive matches. For McCullum's name to be etched beside these two great men says it all for me.
- Sunday Star Times
With the World Cup just around the corner, how do you think the Black Caps will go?