Why New Zealand Should Play More Test Cricket
"Swung away, swung away... and taken by Matt Henry! There it is, a resounding victory for New Zealand that takes them to the top of the world!"
Those words, spoken by Craig McMillan as Zafar Gohar flicked Trent Boult to Matt Henry at long leg late on the fourth day at Hagley Oval, confirmed something unprecedented for New Zealand: the country's name atop the Test cricket team rankings. That clean sweep of Pakistan sealed their eighth consecutive home Test series win and 17th consecutive unbeaten home Test match, a run stretching back almost four years to March 2017.
Of the 43 Tests the Black Caps played between March 2015 and March 2020, home and away, they won 21, or 48.8%, of them. Only their trans-Tasman neighbours Australia (54.4%), whom they deposed this week at the top of the world rankings, and India (63.0%), the powerhouse of world cricket, have a better win percentage in the same time. Furthermore, in those five years, New Zealand lost 15 Tests, or 34.9% of those they played. Again, only Australia (33.3%) and India (20.4%) have a lower loss percentage.
The average win percentage for those five years among all ten Test nations (I'm not including matches involving Afghanistan and Ireland, because they only became Test-playing nations halfway through that period) is 42.9%. The average loss percentage is exactly the same, because all matches are being played against each other, so one win for one side equals one loss for another. New Zealand have both won more often, and lost less often, than that average figure.
You might realise I'm quite determined to make my point. I did spend rather a lot of time working these statistics out!
But what exactly is my point? All we've proved so far is that New Zealand are a good side. One glance at the aforementioned world rankings would tell you that, without the need to spend several hours in lockdown working out precisely how many matches they've won and lost.
Well, cast your eyes back to one of the first numbers I mentioned. New Zealand played 43 Tests in that example five-year period.
That's not enough.
Despite the fact they had the third-highest win percentage of any side in Test cricket in that period, they came in sixth for actual matches played. Only West Indies (42), Pakistan (40), Bangladesh (32), and Zimbabwe (13) played fewer matches.
In that five-year period, New Zealand were in fact the only side to be above the average for win percentage, whilst at the same time below the average for games played (45).
The Black Caps' last Test series of any more than three games began when current captain Kane Williamson was eight years old, away to England in July 1999. Their last five-match series, when they travelled to the West Indies in February 1972, began when current coach Gary Stead was less than six weeks old. Finally, just to really ram home the point, they've never - that is, never - hosted a five-match series since they played their first Test, all of 91 years ago.
Clearly, that has to change. Too often, New Zealand are seen as a warm-up side, or left out in the cold while the 'big three' nations of India, Australia, and England compete against each other in five-match series. Since New Zealand last toured England in 2015, Australia and India have played a combined 15 Tests there, all of them in five-match series.
So, aside from the facts that a) they're now the best team in the world, b) the stats show they clearly deserve it, and - brief segue - c) their prime minister is deeply admirable, here's two more reasons why New Zealand should play just as many matches as Test cricket's 'big three' over the coming years.
New Zealand's captain fantastic stands up as a persuasive argument all by himself. In tandem with his side's rise to number one, he has also risen to the top spot in the individual Test batting rankings. I've always been a fan - not least because he's turned out for three separate stints with Yorkshire - and I'm delighted to see him finally getting the credit he deserves.
Williamson's numbers are, quite frankly, incredible. His Test average currently stands at 54.31, making him one of only four current internationals to have an average north of 50 (quick quiz: can you name the other three? Answers at the end). Somewhat in contrast with other batting captains, his average when he does skipper the side is 62.81, compared to 49.23 when he doesn't.
He has at least one century against every other Test nation, and in fact has at least two against
everyone other than Zimbabwe, with four coming against Pakistan, the opponent against whom he's most prolific.
That last stat is hardly surprising, once you consider he's just had three innings against Pakistan, in which he scored a total of 338 runs. So why, then, has he only had the opportunity to play 83 Tests in his career?
He's been a Test cricketer for precisely 3,722 days. By the time Alastair Cook had been a Test-capped player for the same amount of time (that occurred on the 8th May 2016), he had played 126 matches, which is over 50% more. Granted, I'll accept New Zealand in the early 2010s maybe weren't the side they are now, and England did bowl them out for 68 at Lord's in 2013, but a discrepancy like that helps no one.
New Zealand should be playing more matches, and Williamson should be right there at the heart of it all when they do.
One of the many wonderful things about international cricket is the individual character each nation brings to a game played in that country. Australia is famed for its giant stadiums, cathedrals to the sport, while India is known for unbelievably loud and passionate supporters. England is, well, England, with all the gentlemanly traditions of the game. New Zealand? Scenery.
Put simply, one of the huge pulls to host a flagship five-match series in New Zealand should be the wonderful, village green-style grounds upon which those matches will be played. With grounds called such things as Basin Reserve and Bay Oval, even the names conjure up images of picturesque settings.
That latter ground, Bay Oval, is a new addition to the Test circuit, hosting its first five-day game in November 2019. It's located, naturally, just two miles from a 232m-high (761ft) volcanic cone called Mount Maunganui, which gives the ground's locality its name. I'm sure there's plenty of character in the Oval's famous gasholders, but I think even they would struggle to beat 'actual volcano' in a competition to find the best thing you can see from your seat at a cricket ground.
That's not to say all the grounds are tiny, unspoilt parks. Many are, including Christchurch's Hagley Oval, as previously mentioned at the top of this post, but Auckland's Eden Park and Wellington's Sky Stadium are the premier glass-and-steel venues in New Zealand, seating 42,000 and 34,500 respectively.
I see no reason why world number one side New Zealand couldn't open a five-match series against one of the so-called 'big three' teams in front of a crowd of thousands in either of those stadiums, before setting off around the islands to take in the traditional venues in places like Mount Maunganui, Whangarei, Christchurch, Hamilton, and Dunedin.
I love Maori place names. They just roll off your tongue.
It would be fantastic to see New Zealand get more Test matches, and I really hope their ascension to top of the world can be the catalyst for that change.
The national anthem of New Zealand is God Defend New Zealand, and although I certainly can't claim to have the powers of the Almighty, I do hope I've defended the cricketing interests of those Pacific islands well. If you've got equal love for New Zealand and want to add something to the case that they should get more Test matches, please, do comment or reply on my social channels. I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/longstorysport and Twitter, @LongStorySport.
Aotearoa is firmly on my bucket list, too, so hopefully one day I might just be able to fly out and see some of the first five-match Test series held in the country.
Thanks to the ESPN Cricinfo Statsguru website (stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/records/index.html) for providing all the numbers for me to crunch. Anyone who's even a bit interested in cricket should make a beeline for that website.
Answers to the quiz question, by the way: Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, and Marnus Labuschagne.