OPINION: Praising the Black Caps is about as fashionable as sandals and walk socks. Well, hand me the garters.
Following our national cricket team can evaporate your glass to perennially half empty, given their ability to follow one cracking showing with a fizzer. Then it can sometimes overflow in anticipation of a performance like they produced against world champions India at McLean Park on a warm Sunday night.
It's not time to declare them series winners over India just yet, a team containing two of the world's most influential cricketers, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni. But it's raised expectations for this five-match series and given us a level to measure the team against, looking to the World Cup at home in 13 months' time.
If you're talking complete 50-over performances, this was up there with anything they've produced and left fans thirsting for more at Hamilton's Seddon Park tomorrow. Playing at home on familiar grounds, New Zealand know their one-day game inside out, have a consistent top-11 and a winning formula based around keeping wickets in hand, backing their power hitters, and with the ball attacking for opposition wickets rather than containing.
Captain Brendon McCullum has to leg glance his share of critics, too, but this was orchestrated calmly and finished in style, amid chaos when Adam Milne was forced off.
Batsmen Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor set it up for McCullum, Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi to blaze away in search of 300 in the final 15 overs. Fielding can define a team and it's been patchy this past year, but on Sunday it was committed and accurate, bar two skiers that fell to ground untouched.
Tim Southee was in the thick of New Zealand's plans, outstanding in the field and accurate with the ball.
The bowling was as aggressive as New Zealand signposted, with McCullum shuffling the pacemen and India's batsmen taking on the bouncers and departing the scene. His go-to man, Mitchell McClenaghan, won the game by removing Kohli and Dhoni in full flight.
The presence of those two Indian giants and a likely slower surface in Hamilton requires caution for game two. At 25, Kohli is a marvel and no wonder the Indian hordes chant his name like they did Sachin Tendulkar's. "Koh-liiiii, Kohli," they screamed at McLean Park as he neared ODI century No 18.
All 11 of his previous ODI tons when batting second had led India to victory.
Watching him bat is a cricketing education, as the ball booms off the willow and flies into gaps with such control it's scary. Coach Mike Hesson and the New Zealand brains trust have plenty of video footage to pore over to identify a weakness.
It's great for Hamilton but a dent for New Zealand's hopes that two ODIs are at Seddon Park, to placate them for not getting a test match.
Spin has prospered there and Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will find more turn and variation to their liking than the feather pillow in Napier that ushered the ball onto the middle of New Zealand bats, particularly Williamson whose two lofted drives off Ashwin were things of beauty.
Eden Park on Saturday will be faster and offer more for McClenaghan and company, against an Indian middle order with a soft underbelly against pace and bounce.
The memory of January 8 in Hamilton also needs to be erased. With a series win beckoning, New Zealand were flat and complacent after a clinical performance in Nelson, and were hammered for 363-4 by West Indies. At least complacency shouldn't be an issue this time.
If they're serious about contending for the silverware at home next year, then back-to-back blinders will have people taking notice, not guffawing and saying 'I told you so'. Who knows, sandals and walk socks might be on the way back.
- The Dominion Post
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