David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Picking the first XI of a summer like no other

22 comments
Runs and wickets galore, wins in all forms of the game over two big-name opponents...It's certainly a great time to be a Kiwi fan.

Ross Taylor. Photo / NZ Herald
Ross Taylor. Photo / NZ Herald

The 300 man
New Zealand was the only non-member of this test-playing elite club. Brendon McCullum is not the finest, or most technically adept batsman to have played for New Zealand, but he's among the most gifted. Look at his numbers since becoming captain just over a year ago. His average is up from 38.09 overall to 50.95. His century in the first West Indian test got him out of a slump and lifted his spirits, the double ton at Eden Park set up the winning position and at the Basin he went where no New Zealand batsman had previously gone. By blending his significantly improved defensive game with the ever-present aggressive intent, McCullum was magnificent. An early, and formidable, candidate for Halberg Supreme award this year.

Heart and soul
The resolve of the New Zealand team, both in ramming home advantages (the West Indies) and digging themselves out of a fix (India in Wellington). That determination and spirit probably shone through best at Eden Park when India were threatening to chase down 407 to win the opening test.

Will and simply hanging in there got New Zealand home, with Neil Wagner's inspiring work on the final afternoon a key. But this was not a team for giving in.

First innings batting
In five out of seven first innings since touring Bangladesh in October, New Zealand have passed 400. That has given them a solid foundation and enabled the bowlers to approach their work with confidence. The two exceptions were 349 against the West Indies in Hamilton (won by eight wickets) and at the Basin Reserve last week, when they were shot out for 192 in seamy conditions. They bounced back with New Zealand's highest test score, 680 for eight declared, to ensure a meritorious draw and series win. Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum were giants in the middle order.

Taylor power
Taylor's form against the West Indies, when he became only the second New Zealander to score hundreds in three successive tests, showed his immense importance to the national side. He was in champion touch during the ODIs against India too. His test average, 46.94 is the best by a New Zealander with more than 30 innings. He rose above his mentor Martin Crowe in Dunedin after his double century, and John F. Reid at the Basin a week later, and is now No 5 on the ICC test batting list. More power to him.

The new ball men
Over the five home tests, Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Wagner proved themselves a high-class operation, each with his own strengths. Southee, seam and swing and hostility, was impressive all summer; Boult had the ball on a string in his 10 for 80 in the Basin Reserve win over the West Indies and he's now eighth in world rankings; Wagner's up and at 'em attitude, stamina and zeal for the job were rewarded at Eden Park a fortnight ago with eight wickets against India. The trio were responsible for 78 of 93 West Indian and Indian wickets over the series - Boult took 30 at 19.2; Southee 29 at 20.27; and Wagner 19 at 33.3.

Tim Southee. Photo / NZ Herald
Tim Southee. Photo / NZ Herald

Balls up
The continual problems over the Kookaburra balls going out of shape blighted the summer. It was as if New Zealand Cricket had been fed a few boxes of duds. Then again, to be fair, bowlers are sensitive creatures. Let's just say it's not unheard of for bowlers struggling to get a ball to swing just right to be prone to having a gripe. But not this often. It was seriously a pain, and it is worth pondering how much time was lost changing balls over the season.

The Three Musketeers
Consider the summer of batting might of McCullum, Taylor and Kane Williamson, Nos 5, 4 and 3 respectively. Over all international cricket this summer - tests, ODIs and T20s - they made 2746 runs between them at an average of 59.69. In the five tests, they averaged 88.25 (McCullum), 134.75 (Taylor) and 47.73 (Williamson). Taylor and Williamson missed one test each. They shared nine hundreds in the three forms. Taylor is ranked fifth in the world, McCullum is up to 12th and Williamson at No 21. Rarely, if ever, has New Zealand had three batsmen in successive places in the order have such a strong collective summer.Eden Park no showWhere were the fans for the first Indian test? There was a small but vocal, boisterous and humorous group of Indian fans, complete with choruses, a fake World Cup trophy and fine spirit, but what happened to the thousands expected? Yes the pitch was good, yes, for the second consecutive time the ground produced a cracking test, but NZ Cricket needs to take a hard look at this again. Maybe the adult prices - $45 a day - were too steep. Whatever, those large expanses of empty seats were a poor look.

The coming men
Corey Anderson and Jimmy Neesham gave New Zealand welcome all-round ballast. Each had their special day. Anderson had his blistering 36-ball ODI century at Queenstown; it was the fastest ever and helped secure New Zealand's highest price at the Indian Premier League auction. Neesham made his test debut one to remember with 137 not out, the highest first test score by a No 8 batsman. For both players, their medium pace bowling is a work in progress, but the signs are hugely encouraging. The problem for the selectors? How to fit them both in the test team.

Indian summer
Beating the West Indies was one thing. They were undermanned - no Chris Gayle and Kemar Roach for top-end batting and bowling muscle for starters, and they lacked heart for a fight. India was another story. A 4-0 clobbering in the ODIs. Who saw that coming? Winning the test series was not uniformly expected either, and was all the more pleasing for that. The way in which a seemingly hopeless position was rectified at the Basin Reserve over the last two and a half days, was the icing on the summer cake.

Black hats
Jesse Ryder and Doug Bracewell. A black mark on the season. Both are fine players who might, just maybe, come again. But, frankly, right now who needs them?

- NZ Herald

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 29 Dec 2014 02:49:21 Processing Time: 570ms