Amongst New Zealand’s World Test Championship Final win in Southampton overnight, it was two more minor moments that underlined how captain Kane Williamson has led his side to the ultimate success.
There’s scarcely been a more deserving skipper to hoist a sporting trophy aloft, and Williamson’s poise both in the field and with the bat on Day 6 was critical.
The first of these moments was as India chased quick lower-order runs in a bid to set New Zealand a tricky total on an even tricker pitch.
Mohammed Shami was throwing the bat around as he does, and had struck three boundaries in seven balls. Thirty extra runs on the board might have completely changed the complexion of the match, and Williamson knew it.
So, as Shami was flaying them, what did captain Kane do?
Shifted a man into fly slip, that brilliantly absurd fielding position. Sure enough, the very next ball fell right into that man’s lap. India were bowled out later that over, setting a total just in reach for the Black Caps.
It was a crucial juncture in the match, and a moment we’ve seen other captains (Tim Paine and Joe Root, for example) struggle in.
The second moment of Williamson’s poise was with bat in hand.
India’s Jasprit Bumrah was asking the toughest questions of both he and Ross Taylor, with each probing delivery as the shadows lengthened in Southampton.
A length delivery to Taylor had seriously misbehaved, spitting up two feet higher than his blade, and crashed into his helmet.
It was an all-too-ominous sign, as if anyone needed it, that the pitch wasn’t playing particularly easily. It was also the sort of ball that would’ve sent the heart-rate of Henry Nicholls at number five skyrocketing.
But, soon after, Williamson instilled a sense of calm, as he always does.
Still charging in, Bumrah was driven on the up through the covers by Williamson, with perhaps the shot of the Test match considering the circumstances.
It sent New Zealand closer to victory, but was worth more than the four runs on the scoreboard. It underlined to a nervous Black Caps dressing room that they were in good hands, despite seamer Tim Southee’s declaration it was the “longest 139 runs I’ve ever experienced”.
Taylor later spoke of his nerves when walking to the crease at 2-44.
“It wasn’t easy to start,” he conceded. “But Kane just kept reiterating that it’s going to get easier.”
Williamson’s worth is usually easily to measure — in runs. His combined 49 and 52 not-out here, for example, was considerably more than any other player on the ground.
He will finish his career as the highest ever New Zealand runscorer by the length of the Flemington straight. But his worth is so much more than that.
It’s the aforementioned fielding moves, which included an ingenious short leg/square leg/deep square conga line for Neil Wagner.
It’s the ability to soak up pressure knowing things will improve, the calming personality where his demeanour stays stable irrespective of the match state.
It’s the clear respect he has from anyone who pulls on the whites for New Zealand.
As much as the victory has been hailed ‘poetic justice’ for the Black Caps or good karma for previous deeds, all that is rubbish.
Sport doesn’t care you’ve come close before or are good blokes, and the cricket gods don’t exist. You simply have to front up, again and again, until you win — and that’s exactly what the Black Caps have done.
Defeat in the 2015 and 2019 World Cups hasn’t deterred them, and it’s that resilience that makes them universally admired among cricket watchers.
In the end it was a fairly swift victory in Southampton, inside three-and-a-half days of (actual) action.
BJ Watling got the ultimate sendoff, while for veterans like Taylor and Neil Wagner it’s perhaps a moment that won’t be bettered. For this is truly a golden age of New Zealand cricket.
The addition of Kyle Jamieson (player of the match) and Devon Conway to this already strong Black Caps side has turned a good side into a great one, perhaps their best ever.
For India, introspection will follow but the truth is they were far from poor. Their seamers, in particular, were superb but, in the end, had too few runs to work with.
The eight-wicket loss appears damning but the truth is there were fine margins in the match given the conditions.
Another 40 second-innings runs might have set up a grandstand finish.
While New Zealand rightfully gain the plaudits, it’s Virat Kohli’s team who’ve undoubtedly been the world’s best side over the last two years.
A win in the upcoming series in England, to complement the recent series victory in Australia, would further underline this.
And finally, interest around the World Test Championship Final in the last week has shown it is here to stay.
The first iteration of the championship was highly compromised and riddled with issues mostly due to the pandemic.
But it appears to have endorsement from key stakeholders — not least the players — and if done right, will be a shot in the arm for the game’s traditional format.