Dylan Cleaver: How NZ turned into a T20 super power

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New Zealand's Ish Sodhi prepares to bowl during a their match against Bangladesh. Photo / AP.
New Zealand's Ish Sodhi prepares to bowl during a their match against Bangladesh. Photo / AP.

Ego is a fascinating concept as it relates to high-performance sport.

The accepted wisdom is that all great sportsmen and women have to have a high degree of ego to be successful in such an on-the-edge environment.

Yet you watch how the Black Caps have turned themselves into the most consistent short-format team we've produced, and you come to the conclusion that they've done it in large part because they've managed to either suppress or strip away ego. They live that mantra that there is no "I" in team.

If you're in the media, it can get a bit tiresome: the deflection of praise, the downplaying of individual achievement to highlight the "team effort", the All Blacks-like refusal to dwell on success in favour of looking ahead to the next game. It's easier to find quotable quantity surveyors.

It's working, though. Since New Year's Day 2014, New Zealand have won 35 of 55 ODIs, with three no results and a tie. That's a 64 per cent win record for a team that historically has won 44 per cent.

In the same time frame, they have won 14 of 22 T20Is. Again, that's 64 per cent - considerably higher than their overall record of 51 per cent.

With the shallowest talent pool of all the major nations, they have done this by defining roles and sticking to them.

As counter-intuitive as this sounds, they have a team full of players willing to fail for the team.

The World T20 in India has reinforced that.

Ross Taylor, one of the better strokemakers in New Zealand cricket history, is prepared to play the closer's role, where he's seldom going to get the chance to build big, headline-grabbing innings.

Grant Elliott is happy to shuffle up and down the order depending on the situation.

Even Luke Ronchi, whose form has hardly been compelling of late, is willing to try to hit sixes from ball one, even knowing that every time he fails, it is more ammunition for those advocating a change of wicketkeeper-batsman.

This is a team where individuals appear happy to sacrifice success (if success is measured by statistics, and in cricket, it usually is) for the greater good.
Who knows? Perhaps Elliott went back to his hotel room on Wednesday and emptied the mini-bar after being shuffled down to No7, when he faced one ball and had to act as a sacrificial runner off the last ball (he somehow got home), but you doubt it.

Maybe Tim Southee and Trent Boult are secretly embarrassed to be wearing hi-vis vests on the sidelines when for so long they've been New Zealand's spearheads, but they don't show it.

New Zealand have become a genuine limited-overs power and a pool play force.

There's just one hurdle to clear.

They have to win one of these things.

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