New Zealand series win over Pakistan worthy of praise
OPINION: A test series win worth celebrating.
A dramatic late surge that gave New Zealand a 2-0 triumph in two tests over Pakistan meant Kane Williamson and his troops got a bold tick in the box.
Coming off a 3-0 series shellacking by India on foreign soil, there could be an argument that the only way for the Black Caps was up.
Not so - it was quite conceivable that a talented Pakistan team could have punished a side short on confidence, on sporting, equal-opportunity wickets that a highly capable collection of quicks could have prospered on.
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But New Zealand love home cooking more than a scarfie back for the weekend, and again relished the comforts of a familiar environment.
While two tests isn't a gargantuan gauge of achievement, New Zealand's recent home record reads well.
That's five test series wins in their last six home clashes - the only blemish being the 2-0 loss in the two-test series against Australia in February. Since 2012, there's been a drawn series against England and series victories over the West Indies, India, Sri Lanka (twice) and now Pakistan.
Compare that with their away struggles - since 2012, New Zealand have won two away series out of 12; against the Windies in 2014 and versus Zimbabwe earlier this year.
They've lost four away tests on the trot and in 27 tests outside of NZ since 2012, their only notable victories have come against Sri Lanka in 2012, the Windies in 2014 (twice) and England in 2015.
Pakistan are a traditionally tough opponent for NZ sides. As mentioned on Monday, this was NZ's first series win over Pakistan since 1985. Since then, the two sides had met in 25 tests before this year and Pakistan had scored 14 wins, with seven draws and four Kiwi victories.
The visitors came into this two-test series as the No 2-ranked test team in the world, and hadn't lost any of their past seven series. This was no Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, nor West Indies.
Among the pluses for the victors were their test debutants, who made a formidable fist of their introductions to the top level.
Opener Jeet Raval, on tricky wickets, averaged 49.33 and showed he has a technique and temperament that appears suited to the demands of facing the new ball at test level.
Colin de Grandhomme isn't everyone's idea of a five-day all-rounder, but he's fit, and that's a big advantage for starters. He's not likely to pick up many more six-wicket bags with the ball, but that effort swung the Christchurch test New Zealand's way and he averaged 32.66 with the bat.
Ross Taylor's Hamilton ton was remarkable, given the circumstances, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him flourish further this summer post-op, while Tim Southee returned from injury with a spark and Neil Wagner's value was again magnified.
On the negative side of the ledger, Henry Nicholls tallied 69 runs at 23 - not disastrous, but some way from ensuring he remains at No 5 for the rest of the summer.
There seems to be a few minor issues that could be worked on, but Nicholls has no first-class cricket to recalibrate and boost his red-ball case before the two tests against Bangladesh in January.
Should he make runs in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy one-dayers in Australia next month and then in the limited-overs matches when Bangladesh arrive, that may see him stave off other contenders - maybe the likes of Colin Munro, Will Young or the "converted opener" considerations of Dean Brownlie and the unwanted Martin Guptill.