Kiwis could pose threat to World No. 1 India
New Zealand, who have surprised cricket pundits with their No. 2 elevation in Test rankings earlier this year, could now pose a serious threat to World No. 1 India in the ongoing World Test Championship.
India have started their World Test Championship campaign with a bang by beating hosts West Indies 2-0 to go atop the points table. Virat Kohli & Co lead the nine-team table with 120 points from two games. England and Australia (both teams fighting to win the Ashes) are serious threat for India, but New Zealand can never be underestimated.
The Kiwis are in second position after India in the World Test Championship points table.
Despite being ranked the No. 2 Test team, they are always considered as underdogs. Ever since their 0-3 loss to India in October 2016, the Kiwis have the best win-loss ratio in Test cricket since November 2016. The Kiwis have won 13, drawn four and lost only three Tests in the last 34 months.
Apart from a 0-1 home loss to South Africa in March 2017, they have remained unbeaten in all series, never mind if the majority of those contests were played out on home soil.
During this period, NZ enjoyed three clean sweeps at home — against Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh. They also enjoyed home series wins against England, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. They won an away series against Pakistan in the UAE and were fortunate to draw the two-match Test series 1-1 against Sri Lanka last month.
NZ rose to No. 2 in the Test rankings for the first time in February this year. "It's pretty cool. It's something that's a little weird — us not having played Test cricket for a little bit now — but it's testament to the cricket that we have been playing over the last 12 months, a little bit longer," batsman Henry Nicholls was quoted as saying in ESPNCricinfo.
The Kiwis have shown excellent discipline in both batting and bowling departments with veteran batsman Ross Taylor, opener Jeet Raval, middle-order batsmen BJ Watling and Nicholls, all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme and pacer Neil Wagner in the ranks.
Super skipper Kane
But, the main heroes in the batting department were skipper Kane Williamson and opener Tom Latham, while pacer Trent Boult excelled in the pace bowling department.
Skipper Williamson has led from the front, scoring 1635 runs in 20 Tests at an impressive average of 58.39 since November 2016. His unbeaten 200 against Bangladesh earlier this year saw NZ breach the 700-plus run barrier for the first time in Test cricket as the Kiwis went on to win the first Test of the series by an innings and 52 runs. "The contributions throughout the innings make it a very special one," the skipper said.
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson
Williamson played a key role in the 123-run win over Pakistan in the third Test at Abu Dhabi last December. The right-hander won the player of the match award for his patient 176-ball 89 and 283-ball 139 as the visitors won 2-1.
Another consistent performer for the Kiwis during this period has been Latham — 1599 runs in 20 Tests at 53.30. He is now also the second most successful Test opener for NZ (3318 runs), only behind John Wright (5260).
Latham on a roll
The southpaw has been in top form, posting three 150-plus scores in as many matches, two against Sri Lanka and one against Bangladesh between December 2018 to March 2019. The first of his three big hundreds during this period came during a drawn Test against Sri Lanka at Wellington, where he stayed unbeaten on 264. In the process, he recorded the highest score for a batsman carrying his bat (an opening batsman remaining not out after 10 wickets have fallen). His 176 in the second innings of the second Test saw NZ register a massive 423-run win over Sri Lanka. Latham scored 161 two months later in first Test against Bangladesh at Hamilton where he shared 254 runs with Raval for the opening wicket as the hosts went on to win the game by an innings and 52 runs.
The opener proved his worth yet again, scoring a magnificent 154 in the first innings of the must-win encounter against hosts Sri Lanka at the P Sara Oval last month.
The contributions of pacemen Boult, Tim Southee and Wagner are huge and cannot be over-stressed. Boult has been the leading wicket-taker — 86 wickets in 17 Tests at 23.02. His destructive six-wicket haul with the pink ball at Auckland rattled England for just 58. His match haul of 9-99 helped the hosts beat the Englishmen by an innings and 49 runs in the first of the two Test series last year.
Pacer Trent Boult
The left-arm pacer came up with yet another splendid show in the same year to bundle out Sri Lanka for just 104 in the first innings of the Christchurch Test. The pacer claimed 6-30 and 3-77 respectively in both innings as NZ beat Sri Lanka by a massive 423-run margin.
Pacers Wagner (75 wickets in 17 Tests) and Southee (74 wickets in 15 Tests) have also been stand-out bowlers for the Kiwis.
It will be interesting to see how India fare when they take on hosts NZ in the two-match Test series in February next year.
NZ do not start as favourites to win the World Test Championship, but with the current form, it should not surprise many if they go on to grab the maiden championship trophy.
No. of Test series New Zealand have remained unbeaten in
No. of Tests New Zealand have won in the last 13 matches
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