New Zealand December 31, 2016

Joy, distress, and a passing of the baton

It was an up-and-down year for New Zealand, marked by a change of captaincy, the death of a legend, and a couple of impressive debuts
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New Zealand's player of the year - Kane Williamson

A tide of goodwill flowed through New Zealand cricket at the end of 2015. The consensus was that the national team had built the foundations for a dynasty. Expectations rose to a point not seen since the Richard Hadlee-inspired 1980s.

The team had basked in uncharted territory as World Cup finalists; they were a combative Test side worth the price of admission; and there was enough depth to sustain it. Twelve months on, those premises remain, but some remedial work is required.

With Brendon McCullum's international retirement forecast for February, the year offered a gauge whether the team could capitalise on the culture he created as captain.

Importantly, Mike Hesson extended his coaching contract until the end of the 2019 World Cup, to maintain continuity as the captain's baton was passed to Kane Williamson - a worthy heir as the principal architect of the current era.

Williamson's second Test as captain, the victory over Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, saw him become the first New Zealand batsman to score a century against every Test-playing nation.

Appropriately McCullum's final series, against Australia, came with a crescendo. In Wellington, he became the first cricketer to play 100 consecutive Tests from debut. The loss ended a sequence of 13 undefeated Tests at home - equalling the record by a New Zealand side. The hosts conceded the series 2-0, but not before McCullum blazed the fastest Test century, off 54 balls, in Christchurch.

One last time, from the top: Brendon McCullum leads the team out in Christchurch against Australia, in his final Test © Getty Images

Following his exit, there was an invitation to deliver the annual Cowdrey lecture at Lord's, a reflection of McCullum's contemporary influence on the game and pivotal role in the crusade against match-fixing.

Subsequently, New Zealand impressed and distressed fans across each format. A first Test series win over Pakistan in 31 years resonated, especially given the tourists were ranked second in the world. That was tempered by an inability to get traction, let alone dismantle the barriers to maiden series victories in South Africa or India.

The ODI yang was defending the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy title 2-1 against Australia in February; the yin was losing that silverware 3-0 in December.

The World T20 also delivered a spectrum of emotion. Spinners Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi and Nathan McCullum - in his international swansong - scythed through opposition to make New Zealand title contenders after winning their four pool games. However, England trounced them by seven wickets with 17 balls to spare in the semi-final.

The White Ferns oscillated on a similar scale. They lost the Rose Bowl to Australia, won the subsequent T20 series, then got knocked out of the World T20 semi-final by eventual winners West Indies. They also won ODI series against South Africa and Pakistan. Captain Suzie Bates became the first woman to jointly be named the ICC's one-day international and T20 player of the year.

That news linked to other female advancements. Fifteen women were offered boosted retainers between NZ$20,000 and $34,000, and further opportunities opened in the respective Big Bash and Super Leagues of Australia and England.

A revolutionary moment followed in November, when NZC, after commissioning a review, issued a mea culpa that the women's game had been neglected for a generation. The findings revealed only 10% of the country's cricketers were female; 90% were under the age of 12, compared to 65% of males; and 58% of clubs had no women's participation options. Increasing the number of women on boards at major association level was actioned as an initial solution.

Jeet Raval looks set to make one of the New Zealand openers' slots his own © Getty Images

At minor-association level, a Mighty Ducks narrative unfolded in Buller, a region with about 25 senior players and no grass pitch, on the South Island's West Coast. They took the Hawke Cup off Canterbury Country and immediately lost it to North Otago but the episode proved cricket is always capable of inspirational stories.

The tragedy of the year was the death of Martin Crowe to lymphoma, aged 53. Arguably New Zealand's finest batsman, and an innovative captain, Crowe was considered a visionary at home and abroad. He also invented Cricket Max, a format many considered a forerunner to T20.

High point
The first Pakistan Test series victory since 1984-85 generated optimism at international level, particularly when unheralded allrounder Colin de Grandhomme started with 6 for 41 in Christchurch, the best innings figures by a New Zealander on debut. New Zealand also took 9 for 72 in fading light during the final session in Hamilton to ensure a clean sweep.

A grass-roots story also provided reason to cheer. A benefit to hosting the World Cup was shown through a 19.4% increase in junior players. That provided hope that such a critical mass might ensure a vibrant future.

Low point
Crowe's death generated a national outpouring of grief because of how his panache captivated New Zealanders beyond the cricketing core.

The nadir on the playing side was the Chappell-Hadlee loss to Australia. The result laid bare New Zealand's vulnerability without the retired McCullum and absent Ross Taylor, who underwent surgery to remove a pterygium growth in his left eye.

Rare pressure mounted on Williamson, with his charges offering minimal resistance. The loss was exacerbated by Test series defeats to Australia, South Africa and India across the year.

New kid on the block
Jeet Raval earned his call-up, as New Zealand struggled to solve the perennial problem of getting a pair of opening batsmen, rather than one long-term fix (Tom Latham), to see off the shine. The Auckland left-hander had played 71 first-class matches, averaged 43.69 and made 14 centuries when he faced Pakistan. He had averaged more than 40 each season since 2011-12. Suspicions lingered that Raval might be vulnerable against left-armers and spin - both weapons in the visitors' arsenal - but he delivered 55, 36 not out, 55 and 2. His flypaper hands also snared seven catches, six of which came at second slip. His four catches in Christchurch was a record for a New Zealand non-wicketkeeper on debut.

What 2017 holds
The priorities will be regaining the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy against Australia, in February; defeating South Africa in a Test series for the first time, in March; and winning June's Champions Trophy in England. Apart from those audacious goals, home victories need to be notched against Bangladesh and West Indies.

In the Future Tours Programme's game of musical chairs, New Zealand is the only Full Member country not scheduled to play a bilateral series next July and August.

Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jon on January 4, 2017, 19:07 GMT

    For NZ to be successful they need Bolt and Southee swinging the ball and in form. It has been good to see Bolt return to form but Southee has far too many bad days. I used to equate him with Broad, ie very hot or very cold, but whereas Broad has developed his game Southee has stagnanted.

  • Shane on January 3, 2017, 10:30 GMT

    @DUNGER.BOB - I wish I saw these kiwi fans shouting about the flogging we were gonna give you - I would have joined in calling them out. Anyway as usual, great comments from you.

    @J.VOMKRIEG - mate, he's a known troll. Best to ignore him.

    A very middling year at best for us after the highs of the two season before that. In fact aside from beating Pakistan 2-0, which is a pretty good achievement mind you, there hasn't really been anything to get too excited about. As pointed out below though we did lose a lot of experience over the last twelve months. Hopefully with some promising players coming through to plug those gaps, as well as the quality core that would walk into any international team still delivering, the results can be a lot better in 2017.

  • Shane on January 3, 2017, 10:02 GMT

    @SIMMOTHEAVIATOR - spot on, couldn't have said it better.

  • Jon on January 3, 2017, 8:18 GMT

    The T20 side is ranked #1 and were generally competitive in ODI cricket but for me the real measure of the BCs performance is how the test side is tracking - has it evolved in 2016? You'd have to say not really. We won the games we were expected to win, but lost whenever the going (or opposition) got tough. Sure we had some tough tours but it felt to me like we didn't really perform on any of them. In terms of the personnel we finally picked a proper opener but the middle order still isn't settled (two seasons post McCullum). White ball cricketer Colin de Grandhomme for me is the weirdest selection of 2016. Yes he had success against Pakistan but his future feels far from assured with Neesham, Watling and Santner threatening a log jam in that middle order. By far the biggest issue facing this team is the front line seam bowling which often looks workmanlike and lacks the menace to trouble the top sides.

  • Simon on January 2, 2017, 16:07 GMT

    Interesting contrast here between the intelligent, balanced comments of Dunger.Bob and the blathering, mindless trolling of TheLuckyCountry... both true to their usual form on these boards. As a "QueeNZlander" I look to Cricinfo for decent analysis of the BlackCaps as it's usually one of the most balanced sources out there, and I reckon this review of their 2016 year was pretty spot-on. While things didn't go too wrong there are definitely lessons to be learnt and areas needing work. Thankfully new faces like Raval, de Grandhomme (he's served his qualification period and then some so who cares where he was born?) and Santner are starting to come through, and blokes like Broom and Munro are grasping their second chances. Williamson is growing into the captaincy as well. The White Ferns have players in T20 leagues all over the world too. Next step is getting the bowlers to adapt to foreign conditions a bit better. 2017 should be interesting!

  • Altaf on January 2, 2017, 13:40 GMT

    They need to punch Aus on their own soil.

  • Jay on January 2, 2017, 10:43 GMT

    @THELUCKYCOUNTRY Not really, you don't actually get a lot of NZ cricket fans sledging Australia as we know what the scores are historically. When we win its a big deal, but I can't recall anyone saying that NZ was going to crush Australia or words to that effect.

    Now NZ rugby fans, that's a different matter. But that's also a different power balance between the teams.

  • Bruce on January 2, 2017, 9:04 GMT

    Blackcaps are at the bottom of the pile as per usual. Kiwis are worse than Poms for mouthing off. Your fans always love to get stuck into Australia but, like the Poms, you rarely come up with the results. It is all mouth no action. The current side looks bog average without BMac; I'd take Kane Williamson into the Aussie side and that's about it. All South Africans and boasting withough any talent to back it up with - like the Poms again!

  • Jay Gadsdon on January 2, 2017, 3:14 GMT

    Should have won the spirit of cricket award. Kane williamson a great classical player only root shaun marsh haseeb hameed

  • Jay Gadsdon on January 2, 2017, 3:10 GMT

    @dunger.bob spot on. Thought we'd lose 2-1 to nz

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