New Zealanders will be proud of the Black Caps’ T20 World Cup performance – Bidwell

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In the case of Daryl Mitchell, I was completely wrong.

Wasn’t it a fortnight ago that I said Mitchell’s backside wasn’t fit for an opening batter? I even went so far as to say that he probably didn’t have a place in international cricket.

 

Daryl Mitchell (C) and team mate Mitchell Santner of the New Zealand BlackCaps celebrate as players from England walk off the ground after the ICC Men's T20 World Cup semifinal between New Zealand and England at Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi, UAE on 10 November 2021.

Daryl Mitchell and Mitchell Santner of the New Zealand BlackCaps celebrate as players from England walk off the ground after the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup semifinal. Photo: Photosport / David Gray

Mitchell is now a men’s T20 World Cup semifinal player of the match, having guided New Zealand through to the decider with a mature innings of 72 not out from 47 balls in their five-wicket win over England.

I don’t mind if the Black Caps don’t win the final from here. Thursday morning’s successful chase of 167 to beat England is more than enough for me.

Rightly or wrongly, I subscribe to a few English cricket podcasts. There are days when I can’t listen to some of the drivel and immediately delete shows from my library, due to the overall tone of triumphalism.

England, if you listen to these things, were way better than everyone else at this tournament and on an unstoppable march to the title.

Never mind the fact that New Zealand, South Africa and Australia all emerged from the Super 12 phase of the event with the same win-loss record or that Pakistan were actually unbeaten, England were unassailable.

Even traditionally sober judges such as Michael Atherton, suggested that England and Pakistan were far and away the best sides and would be the tournament’s rightful finalists.

So much for that, then.

Daryl Mitchell (R) of the New Zealand BlackCaps celebrates with team mate Devon Conway after hitting a boundary during the ICC Men's T20 World Cup semifinal between New Zealand and England at Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi, UAE on Wednesday 10th November 2021.

Daryl Mitchell with team mate Devon Conway after hitting a boundary during the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup semifinal between New Zealand and England at Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi, UAE. Photo: David Gray/Photosport Ltd 2021

Pakistan, at the time of writing, had yet to contest their semifinal against Australia, but the outcome of that match doesn’t interest me greatly.

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No, I’m just delighted that New Zealand emphatically ended England’s campaign and effectively knocked India out of the tournament as well.

I’ve written a few times of my dislike of the way cricket’s self-proclaimed elite lord themselves over the game.

We’ve talked of a “big three” for years, although Australia’s membership of that club seems to have waned a little.

Essentially England and India run the sport, dictating all sorts of things such as schedules, broadcast deals, player eligibility and so on.

They are, in their own minds at least, the game’s greatest sides and everyone else is lucky to be riding on their coattails.

For New Zealand to thrash India by eight wickets in pool play at this tournament – and now send England packing too – is immensely satisfying.

There is global respect for this Black Caps team, but a lot of it’s grudging. New Zealand’s players aren’t especially talented, flamboyant or quotable. They’re not box-office, as some folk might describe it.

The Black Caps, even in this short format, play an attritional brand of cricket. They, as they did in this semifinal, try to deny the opposition scoring opportunities and then methodically set about run-getting themselves.

They don’t blast teams off the park with the ball or bat. There’s few fist pumps, no “send-offs” for dismissed batters or ostentatious behaviour.

The Black Caps simply prepare well, accept their limitations and play as a genuine team.

We have mythologised – and rightly so – the New Zealand team of the 1980s. Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe were its undoubted stars, but in many ways we admired and appreciated the efforts of that side’s comparative ugly ducklings more.

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Men such as John Wright, Jeremy Coney, Ian Smith and Ewen Chatfield became beloved characters because of their everyman qualities, as much as their cricketing prowess.

Daryl Mitchell hasn’t enjoyed the longevity of those men but he, like many in this Black Caps team, is cut from a similar cloth.

Mitchell’s not blessed with exceptional skills or athleticism, but he has belief and courage and sufficient self-awareness to stick to his strengths. He is a team man who is happy to fulfil whatever role he’s given.

At this tournament, that’s been to open the batting and you’d have to say he’s done it remarkably well.

Generating a high strike rate wasn’t easy for many batters in this semifinal and Mitchell could have been forgiven for giving his innings away. Instead, he battled through a difficult period then, in concert with Devon Conway and Jimmy Neesham, gradually got New Zealand to the 167 they needed for victory.

On this occasion, it was Mitchell who played a pivotal role in the team’s success. On another day it might be Trent Boult or Tim Southee or Ish Sodhi or Mitchell Santner or Martin Guptill or Kane Williamson.

That’s what makes this team so admirable. Everyone has a part to play, everyone contributes and everyone is modest about their achievements.

We don’t measure New Zealand athletes by the size of their social media footprint or the car that they drive. We measure them by their qualities as people and ability to conduct themselves well in difficult circumstances.

By that yardstick, these Black Caps appear as admirable as any New Zealand team we’ve seen.

Praise, too, is deserved for New Zealand’s largely unobtrusive coach Gary Stead. Contemporaries, such as Australia’s Justin Langer or Ravi Shastri of India, might seek the limelight, but Stead is content to prepare the team well and help create an environment where players are comfortable with and certain of their respective roles.

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Regardless of the outcome of the T20 World Cup final, these Black Caps have again over-achieved and again played and behaved in a manner that New Zealanders can be proud of.

You can’t ask for much more than that.

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