Following their crushing win over Pakistan in the second Test at Christchurch, New Zealand became the No.1 Test team for the first time ever, pushing Australia down to the No.2 spot. For a nation with limited resources and a bunch of players who are not exceptionally talented but extremely hardworking, reaching the top of the Test rankings is a massive achievement. The Kiwis have come tantalizingly close to claiming the No.1 spot in the past, but 2021 has finally done the trick for them. We trace the amazing rise of New Zealand and the key factors behind their ascendancy.
New Zealand’s path to No.1
The Kiwis have played 11 matches as part of the ICC World Test Championship, winning seven and losing four. One of their biggest achievements in the competition came when they drew the two-match series in Sri Lanka 1-1. Although the Lankans are not the team they once used to be, for New Zealand, who do not have a great record in Asia, to pull off an innings and 65 run-triumph at Colombo in August 2019 was massive. They then defeated a strong England side at home 1-0 in a two-Test series (not part of World Test Championship). The Kiwis suffered a setback in Australia, where they were whitewashed 0-3 in the three-match series towards the end of 2019.
New Zealand, however, began 2020 on a high, with a 2-0 drubbing of India at home, and have not looked back since. The Indians came to New Zealand with a full-strength squad. Cricket pundits even rated the visitors as favourites. However, despite coming up against the likes of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, the Kiwis still managed to finish on top. Incredibly, they rarely allowed the Indians to dominate, winning the two Tests comprehensively, by 10 wickets and seven wickets respectively.
The Kiwis have been completely dominant at home over the last two series’. They crushed West Indies 2-0, winning both the Tests by an innings margin. In the most recent series against Pakistan, they again won the two Tests with ease, deservedly climbing to the top of the Test rankings.
Kane Williamson: Leading from the front
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson has played a pivotal role in the Kiwis reaching the No.1 ranking in Test matches. In 11 matches since August 2019, when New Zealand played their first World Test Championship match, Williamson has amassed 976 runs at an average of 61 with as many as four hundreds. He struggled in Sri Lanka and Australia, managing only 24 and 57 runs respectively. Against India too, he had a middling series, scoring 89 runs in the two Tests.
Williamson though impressed against England, scoring 159 runs in two Tests at an average of 79.50 and a best of 104 not out. In the last three Tests against West Indies and Pakistan, he has been exceptional. In the only Test, he played against West Indies, he hammered a career-best 251. The 30-year-old was unstoppable against Pakistan, amassing 388 runs at an average of 129.33. After registering 129 at Mount Maunganui, he followed it up with 238 at Christchurch, his third hundred in as many Tests, and fourth double century of a decorated career.
Kyle Jamieson stands tall
At 6’8″, he’s the tallest man to ever play cricket for New Zealand. And, in the six Tests that he has played for the Kiwis since debut, Kyle Jamieson has stood tall in the real sense. With his height and nagging accuracy, he had made life extremely difficult for the opposition batsmen. In the six Tests, Jamieson has already claimed 36 wickets at a brilliant average of 13.27 and an impressive strike rate of 33.3. The pace bowler already has four five-wicket hauls in six Tests.
Jamieson made an impactful debut against the Indians with nine wickets in two Tests, including a best of 5 for 45. He continued his good work against West Indies, grabbing 11 wickets in two matches, with a best of 5 for 34 at Wellington. Jamieson went one step further, claiming a match haul of 11 wickets against Pakistan at Christchurch, to be named the player of the match. Jamieson has undoubtedly been the find of the season for New Zealand in what has been an astonishing few months for them in Tests.