The defining characteristic of the Blackcaps has always been their ability to punch above their weight in the international arena, and six semi-final appearances along with two progressions to the World Cup final are a testament to that trait.
Despite rugby being the dominating sport of a country with a modest population compared to other big Test playing nations, New Zealand have managed to defy the odds time and time again. This penchant for rising to the occasion is something former all-rounder Nathan McCullum puts down to the ‘Kiwi mentality’.
Having made 84 ODI and 63 T20I appearances for the Blackcaps over the course of his career, McCullum was part of two World Cup campaigns – 2011 and 2015 – with the former ending in the semi-final while the latter saw the side finish as runners-up to Australia.
“It’s a bit of the Kiwi attitude, and the way that New Zealanders are brought up,” McCullum explained to Sport360 during a recent visit to Dubai.
“To be in the fight and really challenge themselves to be better. It is about pushing the boundaries with such a small population compared to the other Test playing nations.
“It is also the opportunity to play around the world against some of the best players in the game. That means you can really challenge yourself and that is the way you get better.”
This Kiwi mentality has been evident with the current New Zealand side who narrowly missed out on a maiden World Cup title last year on the basis of a boundary countback. They have also been on a solid run in the Test format and were unbeaten for more than 31 months before tasting defeat against Australia recently.
The loss to Australia was a chastening one with Kane Williamson and his men comprehensively whitewashed by 3-0 in the three-match Test series. The visitors were sent packing inside four days in each of three Tests with Marnus Labuschagne running riot with the bat for Australia.
“I think any time you play a team when they are going really well in their own backyard, it is very hard,” McCullum reasoned.
“New Zealand came up against a team who are playing really good cricket at the moment. They are bowling very well, they are batting very well and they are really coming together as a unit.
“It was a missed opportunity to win but I think it’s no mean feat to come up against this Australian side and emerge with a victory. It was also because Australia turned up and played some great cricket as well.”
The Kiwis were able to breach the 200-run barrier on just two of the six occasions in the series defeat and that is what cost them in the end, according to McCullum.
“In a nutshell, they probably didn’t score enough runs and that’s essentially it. The bowling unit did its job by picking up wickets and Neil Wagner was fantastic,” he stated.
“He led the bowling unit superbly and even Tim Southee had a great series. I really think the lack of runs compared to what the Australians scored was the sticking point for New Zealand.”
Another aspect New Zealand struggled with in Australia was in the spin department where Mitchell Santner was poor. The left-armed orthodox bowler has developed into a gun bowler for the Blackcaps in the limited-overs format, but he proved to be as effective as a suitcase without a handle in Aussie conditions. In the two Tests he played, Santner averaged a whopping 127.50 while picking up just the solitary wicket.
McCullum, who himself was a limited-overs specialist spinner for New Zealand, feels that the management might have erred by selecting Santner ahead of Ajaz Patel and Will Somerville in Australia.
“I think Mitch (Santner) is a great bowler in the T20 and ODI formats and he has been a fantastic player for us in that regards. He has also been a good performer in Test cricket,” McCullum said.
“But yeah, if you take the conditions in Australia into account, you have to really question if he was the right choice for the series. Especially when you have guys like AJ (Ajaz Patel) who has great experience as well as Will Somerville who had considerable experience in Australia previously.
“I’m sure New Zealand will learn from that experience in the coming days and selection is always a tough thing to do. I am also sure that Mitch will be in and around the team in the next few series as well.”
While New Zealand’s Test credentials took a big beating across the Trans-Tasman, they have a chance to quickly salvage it with No1 ranked India set to arrive soon on their shores. The two sides will face off in five T20Is, three ODIs and two Tests with the tour getting under way towards the end of February.
McCullum acknowledged the threat a formidable India side poses, though he is backing the hosts to come out fighting in home conditions.
“Playing in your own conditions, it is always going to be a challenge for India. When you’re familiar with the surroundings, it is always an advantage,” McCullum explained.
“India are of course a very good team and they have world-class players throughout their line-up. I think it will be a very close series in all three formats – the Tests, ODIs and T20Is.
“It is up to the world-class players on both sides to stand up and make the difference.”
It will now be up to Williamson and his men to summon that ‘Kiwi mentality’ once again which went missing completely in Australia.
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