Neil Wagner And The Coming Golden Age Of New Zealand Cricket

Black Caps fans were disappointed to hear, last Sunday evening, that Neil Wagner had broken two toes batting in the first innings in the ongoing Test against Pakistan. The natural assumption was that the damage would prevent Wagner from bowling, and so the Black Caps were much less likely to win the match than they otherwise would have been. As it turned out, Wagner bowled 49 overs anyway, and the Black Caps won by 101 runs.

The win against Pakistan was important for a number of reasons. For one thing, it propelled the Black Caps to the No. 1 Test ranking for the first time in their history. For another, it meant that they still had a chance to make the World Test Championship final. But the main reason was spiritual.

There are many reasons why the All Blacks are infamously hard to beat. Their extremely high level of skill is one. The main reason, though, is will. The All Blacks go harder than any other team barring the Springboks. They and the Boks seem ready and willing to die to defend their line, a quality shared by no other teams. The All Blacks are even willing to play on with broken bones.

On the 1970 All Blacks tour of South Africa, Colin Meads played most of a match against East Transvaal with a broken arm. The near-demonic will necessary to do this has since become part of the All Blacks mythology. In the half-century since that tour, the All Blacks have built a winning record against every other side in the world, even the 3-time World Cup winning Springboks.

Part of the reason why the All Blacks are so good is their “aura”. This is the name given to the All Blacks egregore, which is powerful enough to influence games in its own right. This egregore has gained so much power because of feats like that of Colin Meads. Other teams don’t have players willing to play on with broken bones, which is why they keep losing to the All Blacks, who do.

When most Black Caps fans heard that Neil Wagner had two broken toes, they would have resigned themselves to a draw. Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson and Mitchell Santner are fine bowlers, but it seems unlikely that they could take 20 wickets by themselves on a placid New Zealand pitch that would continue to flatten out.

That Wagner not only continued to bowl, but took 4-105, is a feat equal to that of Colin Meads half a century ago. Wagner has rightly been lauded for his influence on the outcome of the match, but the larger effect might be Wagner’s influence on the Black Caps’ egregore. The Black Caps are, now, also a team that fields players willing to play on with broken bones.

Wagner’s feat, and the subsequent Black Caps victory, may have created an egregore that is strong enough to win matches on its own. Every team that faces the Black Caps now knows that, as Wagner put it, their opponents would rather be carried off on a stretcher than lose. That is intimidation. That is an aura. That fact will create doubt in the minds of every team that gets ahead of the Black Caps in a match.

It’s also impossible to overstate the psychological effect that the Black Caps win will have on world cricket. The bar has now been set higher than ever before. Every cricketer in the world knows that, if they aren’t willing to bowl 49 overs on a broken foot, they don’t want it as much as the Black Caps do. Net bowlers the world over will tire and, thinking of Wagner, bowl for another hour anyway.

Thanks to the efforts of Wagner and others, the Black Caps are now the world’s leading cricket team.

What seems clear is that the Black Caps are about to enter the true Golden Age of New Zealand Cricket. From now until at least the retirement of Kane Williamson, the Black Caps will either be ranked No.1 or will be threatening it. They have a cadre of both batsmen and bowlers who will be able to perform at world-class level, and there won’t be mass retirements for at least one more World Cup cycle.

Over the next four to six years, the Black Caps will challenge in all conditions against all opponents. That they themselves believe they can do this has been ensured by Neil Wagner’s efforts this week. Both the Black Caps and their opponents know that not even broken bones are enough to stop the Kiwi pace battery. It will provide an invincible confidence.

This Black Caps side is already the No. 1 Test team in the world and easily the best squad that New Zealand has ever produced. The big question is whether they have what it takes to challenge Ponting’s Australia as the most complete side in living memory. The next four to six years should tell us.

*

If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2019 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 and the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 are also available.

*

If you would like to support our work in other ways, please consider subscribing to our SubscribeStar fund. Even better, buy any one of our books!

The Black Caps Can Win The World Cup If They Summon The Spirit of The Crusaders Team of 1999

Some say that you need to lose a final before you can win one, and therefore the Black Caps should win Sunday’s Cricket World Cup decider since they lost the final in 2015. Others point out that their opponents, England, have already lost three finals and are playing at home. The 2019 Black Caps, as Dan McGlashan writes, need to take their inspiration from the champion Crusaders team – of 1999.

The 1999 Super Rugby season followed a similar format to this year’s Cricket World Cup. The twelve teams all played each other in a round robin league, and then the top four played in semifinals, with the top team playing the fourth-ranked one and second playing third. The final would be played at the home ground of the highest-ranked finalist.

The Crusaders started the season with wins, but the wheels fell off the campaign in later rounds and they limped into the semifinals in fourth position. Their semifinal was away against the Queensland Reds, a team that had beaten them by 13 points during the round robin stage. To the surprise of many, the Crusaders won the game 28-22.

The lesser-favoured team also won the other semifinal, with the Otago Highlanders taking down the Stormers in South Africa. This meant that the Highlanders were the highest-ranked finalist, having been third at the end of the pool stage to the Crusaders’ fourth. The final would therefore be at Carisbrook, Dunedin.

Despite having qualified fourth, and despite having to win away, the Crusaders were able to overcome. They won the final 24-19 despite the hostile Otago crowd and the gallant efforts of the Highlanders.

The Black Caps have had a similar campaign this year. Their World Cup started with a number of wins against the easy teams, and then some very tight games, and then some losses. Consequently, they limped into the semifinals in fourth place.

India was heavily favoured to win the semifinal, having only lost one game during the round robin. However, vulnerabilities had been exposed in the Indian win against Afghanistan, and the Black Caps took advantage to win the fixture by 18 runs.

That the Black Caps have not been favoured to win is an understatement. Smarter media pundits, such as VJM Publishing, have been reporting for years that this Black Caps unit is an excellent side: their players stack up statistically to the world’s best, they’re better man-for-man than the 2015 side and we believed years ago that they could be the No. 1 ODI side in the world.

The mainstream media, by contrast, has been spewing out pessimistic garbage. They don’t simply remember the sporting landscape of 1999 – they’re stuck in it. Hence, they write as if the Black Caps were still as unfavoured as the team of 1999.

This garbage, however, could be used as fuel to spark a fire, the kind of fire that inspired Andrew Mehrtens to give a one-fingered salute to a raucous Bulls crowd on his way to leading the Crusaders to the 1999 title.

It’s true that the English team is probably the favourites. Not only are they the No. 1 ranked ODI team in the world, but they also beat the Black Caps in their pool stage encounter. This isn’t a bad thing from the Black Caps’ perspective – it just means that they have to do two things.

The first is to go to the final with an attitude of defiance. It’s probably fair to say that the 2015 Black Caps side were a little overawed by the occasion of a Cricket World Cup final. They were playing in the 90,000-seat home stadium of the five-time world champions. The Black Caps looked, and played, nervously that day. Those nerves may have led to incorrect decisions being made.

The 2019 side shows no sign of this. Kane Williamson has been a colossus of silk and steel who plays with the self-belief of a prophet of God, and his lieutenants all have experience from playing in the last final. Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Trent Boult and Matt Henry have all played multiple World Cup knockout games by now, with Guptill and Henry even winning Man of the Match in two of them.

They need to take this newly-won confidence into the final, then double down on it. Let them rage coldly against their doubters, against the sheep-like mockers. Let them take the field with the belief that they’re not there to do well or evenly merely to win, but to write their names into history.

For a second thing, they have to do something new that England isn’t expecting.

That something unexpected might be swapping Guptill and Tom Latham in the batting order. If Latham opened the batting with Henry Nicholls, the Black Caps would have their two best leavers of the ball to see out the first six overs. So far this World Cup, the ball has not swung much past the six over mark, and so surviving this period becomes crucial (as India found out to their dismay).

Opening with Guptill makes sense if the bat dominates the ball, as it has done for most of the past four years. If the ball dominates the bat, however, as has been the case for much of this World Cup, Guptill tends to nick off or miss a moving one early and get out. Better to have Latham and Nicholls deal with this, then to have Guptill come in at 5 once Williamson and Taylor have seen off the main danger.

Nothing needs to change in the bowling department. The Black Caps produced one of their greatest ever bowling performances in the semifinal, with lethal accuracy up front and then a dogged refusal to give away bad balls as the innings progressed. If they can bowl that well again, or even close to it, England will have to play extremely well to score 270 or more.

The Black Caps need to summon the iron-willed spirit of the 1999 Crusaders team. Then they can go into an away final against a favoured opponent with the attitude of sticking it up all of them, their crowd and their media. This need not mean they go against their established culture of goodwill and fair play – it just means they have to play with a bit more steel in the spine.

Summon the spirit of the Crusaders side of 20 years ago, and the Black Caps could be world champions on Monday morning.

*

Understanding New Zealand, by Dan McGlashan and published by VJM Publishing, is the comprehensive guide to the demographics and voting patterns of the New Zealand people. It is available on TradeMe (for Kiwis) and on Amazon (for international readers).

The Black Caps ODI Bowling and Batting in 2019 Compares Well To Great Players of the Past

The 2019 Black Caps are arguably the best ODI side that New Zealand has ever produced. But how good are they in comparison to their historical peers of other nations? Numbers man Dan McGlashan, author of Understanding New Zealand, looks at how our bowling and batting compares to some great lineups of the past.

Some people call Trent Boult the ‘White Akram’ for his relentlessly accurate line and mastery of seam and swing at 140km/h. If you compare Boult’s numbers to Akram’s, Boult comes out looking very well indeed.

Wasim Akram’s ODI career stretched from 1984 to 2003. Over these two decades, he racked up a truly phenomenal 502 wickets at an average of 23.52. Compared to the bowlers of his era, Akram had a bowling average 24% lower that the average of all bowlers from those same years (the overall bowling average between 1984 and 2003 was 29.19).

Compared to the bowlers of his era, however, Boult’s bowling average of 24.80 is 28% lower (the overall bowling average between 2012 and 2019 is 31.92). This is extremely impressive if one considers that it means that Boult is even more of an outlier in comparison to his international ODI fast-bowling peers than Wasim Akram was.

Despite the memories of him as an outstandingly destructive bowler, Akram’s strike rate is not as impressive as his economy rate. Akram’s strike rate of 36.2 is only 6% better than the average strike rate of his era (38.5). His economy rate of 3.89, however, is a full 16% better than the average economy rate between 1984 and 2003.

This is not so much true of Boult. The Kiwi paceman’s strike rate of 29.3 is 23% better than the average strike rate during his career, and his economy rate of 5.06 is 5% better than the global economy rate of 5.31 during this time. He is like Akram in that his accuracy allows for both economy and strikepower, only Boult has more of the latter and Akram more of the former.

If Boult is the White Akram, then Matt Henry is the White Waqar Younis. As Younis was to Akram, Henry is more expensive than Boult but also more destructive with the ball.

Compared to the bowlers of his era, Younis had a bowling average 23% lower than the average of all bowlers from those same years (the overall bowling average between 1989 and 2003 was 29.40). This is roughly similar to Akram, but where Younis was really impressive was his strike rate of a wicket every 30.5 balls. This was 26% better than the 38.4 average global strike rate during Younis’s career.

Compared to the bowlers of his era, Henry has a bowling average 29% lower than his peers (the overall bowling average between 2014 and 2019 is 32.27). Incredibly, his strike rate of 27.2 is 32% better than the global average of 35.9 during his career. This means that, statistically, Henry is an even more destructive bowler than Waqar Younis was – even after you account for the fact that strike rates are lower nowadays.

Some of Henry’s detractors claim that he is hittable, but this is no more true of Henry than it was of Younis. Younis was 1.8% more expensive than the average of his era; Henry is 1.7% more expensive. These are very slim margins compared to the average bowler, and more than compensated for by the vastly superior strike rate.

If you’re surprised that the Black Caps’ ODI opening bowling duo has stats that back up well when compared to arguably the best new-ball pair of all time, get ready for another surprise. Their top-order batting trio of Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor have stats that back up well when compared to those of Mathew Hayden, Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn.

Guptill and Hayden have almost identical batting averages: 43.87 vs. 43.80. For Guptill, this represents being 40% above the average cost of a wicket over the years of his career (31.28). For Hayden, it represents being 48% above the average cost of a wicket over the years of his (29.66).

When it comes to strike rate, Hayden’s 78.96 was right on the average strike rate of his time (79.28), despite his reputation as a massive hitter. Guptill is worth an extra couple of runs per 100 balls, with a strike rate of 87.99 compared to the global average of 86.96 during his career.

For Guptill to have roughly equal stats to those of the Australian opener from their greatest ever batting era is amazing enough, but there are two others in the Black Caps lineup who compare just as favourably to their counterparts in that great Aussie side.

At No. 3, Williamson’s numbers come out looking very good compared to Ponting’s. The Kiwi captain’s average of 45.85 is 45% above the average wicket during his career. The former Australian captain’s average of 42.03 is slightly behind this benchmark, at 40% above the average.

Ponting’s strike rate was relatively better, however: his 80.39 is right on the era strike rate of 80.66. Williamson’s 82.32, by contrast, is 6% slower than the average batsman of his time. In Williamson’s favour, though, he is still only 29, and therefore only just now entering the peak of his career. His numbers might well be even more impressive in six years’ time.

At No. 4, Taylor has fashioned a record that compares well to players in any time and era. His average of 48.55 is 56% higher than the average batting average throughout his career (31.05). Martyn’s average of 40.80, while much higher than the 29.66 global average during his career, was only 38% higher.

That means that, as much as Martyn was a rock at 4 for Australia, Taylor is even more so for New Zealand.

Overall, when one compares the statistics of some of our current crop of Black Caps to their contemporaries, the distance they are ahead of the average compares well to some of the great players of days past. Not only is this a highly underrated Black Caps side, but they have an entirely realistic chance of winning the World Cup this year.

*

Understanding New Zealand, by Dan McGlashan and published by VJM Publishing, is the comprehensive guide to the demographics and voting patterns of the New Zealand people. It is available on TradeMe (for Kiwis) and on Amazon (for international readers).

Matt Henry Is Now The Most Underrated Player In The Black Caps

In 2017, numbers man Dan McGlashan explained how Ross Taylor was the most underrated player in the Black Caps. In 2018, he explained how that mantle had passed to Henry Nicholls. This year, as McGlashan will show in this article, the most underrated player in the Black Caps is Canterbury’s Matt Henry.

Trent Boult is undoubtedly the hero of the Black Caps bowling attack. In ODIs, he has taken 148 wickets at an average of 24.83. Currently ranked No. 2 in the world for ODI bowling, many would go as far as to argue that Boult was the Black Caps’ most influential player. Everyone knows that his opening spell is crucial to the team’s success.

Few such accolades fall on Matt Henry. Far from being considered the spearhead, his place in the side seems far from certain. Many fans appear to prefer Tim Southee or even fringe candidates such as Scott Kuggeleijn or Hamish Bennett. However, much like Henry Nicholls a year ago, Henry has put up some excellent numbers that, if considered in context, mark him as a potentially world-class option.

If one looks simply at the numbers, Henry is not far behind Boult. From 44 games, he has taken 81 wickets at an average of 25.60. He hasn’t had as much gametime as many think he deserved, but this has kept him hungry and injury-free, and I’m predicting we’ll see some New Zealand records broken by him in the future.

He’s been especially good against the Asian teams, with 20 wickets against Pakistan at 20.25, 21 wickets against Sri Lanka at 18.38, and 11 against India at 19.09. Considering that the 2023 Cricket World Cup will be hosted in India, that marks him out as one to watch.

Henry doesn’t just threaten records on the smaller scale. He is also threatening Shane Bond’s record of 54 matches for the fastest Black Caps bowler to 100 ODI wickets. Henry has taken 81 wickets in 44 games, meaning he has to take 19 in nine to break the record and 19 in 10 to equal it.

At his current rate of 1.84 wickets per match, Henry will reach the milestone in 55 games, one more than Bond and one fewer than Boult.

Another Shane Bond-related stat is that Henry has a better strike rate – Bond took 29.2 balls per wicket compared to Henry’s 27.9. Bond took four wickets or more 11 times in 82 matches, while Henry has already done so 8 times in only 44 matches. Bond did it once every 7.5 matches, Henry has done it once every 5.5 matches.

In fact, Henry has one of the ten best strike-rates of all time for a bowler who has taken 50 or more ODI wickets. Measured by strike rate, he’s ahead of Waqar Younis, Brett Lee, Shaoib Ahktar and Allan Donald.

The only criticism that one might level at Henry, in comparison to Bond and Boult, is that he is hittable. When people make this argument, they refer to his economy rate of 5.50, which is expensive in comparison to the 5.07 of his contemporary Boult (let alone Bond’s truly excellent economy rate of 4.28). Henry has yet to earn the respect of opposition batsmen playing him out as Bond, Boult and Vettori had.

In any case, I’m not arguing that Henry is an all-time great just yet. Despite the stats and despite his excellent lines and seam movement, he’s certainly not above criticism when it comes to mastery of length. His predictable hit-the-top-of-off approach, while difficult to play effectively, makes it possible to premeditate slogs down the ground or over midwicket.

However, I’m certainly not arguing that Henry is the finished product just yet either. Being only 27 years old, he still has plenty to learn when it comes to canniness and cunning. Although a weapon with the new ball, his bowling at the death has exposed his lack of variations. I am predicting for him to learn these variations and to become a great.

In the end, the fairest way is to rate Henry is according to the standards of his peers.

Since the last Cricket World Cup, Henry is 15th on the list of bowling averages for players from the major nations (minimum 40 wickets). Weighing more heavily is his current ranking in the top 10 of ODI bowlers, reflecting the large proportion of top-order wickets he has taken. If one considers that he was as high as 4th in 2016, the last time he got a consistent run in the side, then it’s already apparent that he’s underrated.

But there’s more. Henry currently sits 43rd on the list of all-time lowest bowling averages for players who have taken 75 or more ODI wickets. His average of 25.60 puts him ahead of Shane Warne, Dale Steyn and Pat Cummins. This century, his average puts him 25th. That’s an excellent return for a player who some think doesn’t deserve a spot in the Black Caps’ starting XI.

By any meaningful statistical measure, the performances that Matt Henry has delivered in the ODI jersey are almost as good as Trent Boult’s. If one considers that Henry’s role in the team is to take wickets with the new ball, then the danger he represents is roughly equal.

All of this is enough to declare him the most underrated player currently in the Black Caps side.

*

Understanding New Zealand, by Dan McGlashan and published by VJM Publishing, is the comprehensive guide to the demographics and voting patterns of the New Zealand people. It is available on TradeMe (for Kiwis) and on Amazon (for international readers).