An email comes from a reader in New Zealand. She had read what Tom Latham said about his side’s “brand of cricket” after the Edgbaston Test, and wanted to share a story she thought might help make his point for him. It was about the time she joined her family at a one-day game at the Basin Reserve in Wellington. “I discovered my seven-year-old talking to Neil Wagner on the sidelines. It turned out they had been chatting together for over an hour. And Wagner was in no rush to get back to the dressing room. He said how impressed he was by the little guy’s cricket knowledge and seemed genuinely to have been enjoying himself.”
It’s not just Wagner. Last week she and her two boys went through New Zealand’s Test squad and realised that between them they had met every one of them, at matches, or training sessions, or sponsors’ events. “I think this is part of what Tom Latham meant when he said that the team wanted to play cricket their own way,” she wrote. “They are generous, humble and unselfish, even when the cameras aren’t watching.”
It was a little painful listening to Latham try to articulate all this last Sunday. It always is when players do this sort of PowerPoint sports talk, about brands, values, integrity, but at bottom it’s just another way of saying that the team knows who they are and how they want to play.
So did Clive Lloyd’s West Indies, and Steve Waugh’s Australia, even if they expressed it differently. It is no surprise that New Zealand’s approach is rooted in their connection to the community. It grew out of a team meeting before the 2015 World Cup, when the then captain, Brendon McCullum, and coach, Mike Hesson, asked the squad to “work out what a New Zealand cricket fan would like to see us do”.
Kane Williamson still talks about it now. The squad agreed on a list of “simple values, things which are important to our group and to Kiwis, which we want to commit to day in, day out” and they have stuck by them since. It doesn’t mean their batsmen play a straighter drive, or their bowlers deliver a faster in-swinger, “but it can certainly help a team grow”. And New Zealand have. Eight years ago they were one off the bottom of the world rankings, now they are top of them, and about to play India in the final of the World Test Championship, starting on Friday.
One of the reasons this match is so fascinating is that while the two sides are very different from each other in all sorts of ways, they are alike in one important one. Because India have a clear sense of identity, too. It’s almost the inverse of New Zealand’s, and it has to be, because their population is about 300 times bigger and their cricket board about 200 times richer. So they have developed a superpower swagger, no quarter asked, and none given. Under Virat Kohli, India have become the sharpest, fittest, fiercest side in the sport. And while there aren’t a lot of little kids in India who have had the opportunity to meet the team, there are plenty who dream of playing for them.
“It’s something we can hang our hat on as Kiwis” was the phrase Latham used. The last time there was an England team who had that was during the World Cup in 2019. Eoin Morgan called them “a team of different backgrounds, races and religions, a team which derived strength from diversity, and represented the best of our country”.
Some of that grew out of a team meeting, too, at the Shangri La hotel in Sri Lanka in 2018, when Morgan laid out the set of values – “courage, unity, and respect” – he wanted the team to live by. Scoff all you want, but if you need an insight into how seriously the team take it, ask yourself why Alex Hales has not been able to get a game since he failed that drugs test.
Root was there alongside Morgan during that presentation, but his presence only gets a passing mention in the reports. He was involved in the process, but you never get the sense that he has really been able to set out the values of his Test team, to define who they are, and how they play. I wonder if he has really even been given the chance to do it.
England’s split between red and white ball cricket means the Test side, and the first-class game beneath it, has been institutionally neglected. And Morgan’s success off the back of that has made inevitably Root the lesser of the two captains.
Right now, Root is the best‑paid man in English cricket, but he often refuses to talk about the big issues in the sport because they are “above my pay grade”. He’s leading a team who say they want to win seven Tests in a row and then set out to bat for a draw in the very first of them. And he’s representing a board who insist Test cricket is a priority, then put out a second XI so their best players can play T20. A board who seem almost a bit embarrassed by their own fans and have, in fact, managed to alienate a large number of them because they want to win over an entirely new audience.
Think about the three words you would pick off the top of your head to sum up India and New Zealand right now. Then try the same exercise for England’s Test team. They may be fourth in the rankings. But the comparison won’t be flattering.
Source : https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2021/jun/17/wtc-finalists-india-and-new-zealand-have-clear-identities-unlike-roots-england1542