'Nice guys' New Zealand are not winning any prizes until they stand tall when it really matters

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New Zealand’s big summer of cricket started with victory over England, but a pasting suffered at the hands of Australia has once again exposed the gulf that still exists between the Kiwis and the elite sides of the world.

An unbeaten Test run since the start of 2017 that saw them win seven series out of eight, meant that Kane Williamson and his men arrived on Aussie shores as the No2 ranked team in the world. Such was their rising dominance in red-ball cricket that New Zealand were accorded a rare Boxing Day Test appearance at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) by the hosts.

The last time the Kiwis were invited for a Boxing Day Test in Melbourne was over three decades ago in 1987 in a three-match series which they would go on to lose narrowly by 1-0. This time around, a record attendance of more than 80,000 spectators on Boxing Day, with a heavy contingent of Kiwis fans among them, was perhaps the only highlight for New Zealand in a series which saw them touch new lows.

A royal thrashing Down Under.

A royal thrashing Down Under.

Being comprehensively beaten inside four days in each of the three Tests laid bare the vulnerabilities that still plague the side, despite their encouraging results over the past three years or so. Their record in Australia was never good enough to begin with and their only series win against the hosts came nearly 35 years ago.

However, the manner in which they completely disintegrated in the recently concluded whitewash just goes to show the strides they still need to make if they are to truly become a great side. While they had been undefeated in their last eight series prior to the Aussie sojourn, New Zealand hadn’t faced any of the three big Test sides – Australia, India and South Africa.

In fact, the last time they beat one of three aforementioned teams in a Test series came almost six years ago when they prevailed 1-0 over India at home. Since then, they have twice been beaten by the Aussies while losing one series apiece against India and South Africa.

There were many things which went wrong for the Kiwis in Australia including injuries or illness to Trent Boult and Kane Williamson at key stages. The fact that they had to start the series with a pink-ball Test in Brisbane just a week after playing with the red-ball against England did not help either.

Still, to be outclassed the way they were is not a good look for New Zealand who pride themselves on their ability to always bring the fight, especially on the biggest of stages. However, their capitulations when it matters most in recent years tell an entirely different story. While they do manage to punch above their weight for the most part, New Zealand have been found wanting at the decisive hurdle.

Williamson leads arguably the strongest Kiwi team in ages.

Williamson leads arguably the strongest Kiwi team in ages.

Defeats in two consecutive World Cup finals in a row, albeit the second one coming via a boundary countback, are further testament to a mental barrier which prevents them from shooting for the stars. This is arguably the strongest Kiwi side produced in ages and it would be a real shame if they are unable to get the most out of this generation. Their approach of playing hard, but clean cricket bereft of ugly sledges has seen them turn into the sweethearts of all cricketing neutrals.

However, the current crop at Williamson’s disposal will surely not want their ‘nice guys’ image to be the only defining aspect of their careers. Multiple opportunities to stake a claim for greatness have already been squandered and the defeat to Australia is the latest of their failure to win larger battles.

Thankfully for them, they will get a chance to salvage some reputation when No1 ranked India arrive for a two-match Test series next month. Win that, and they will be able to prove that they can stand up to the big boys. A loss, though, will only further exacerbate their fast burgeoning reputation as ‘softies’.

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