Ordinarily at the end of a Test series we pump out the Test Series Stats thing, having a good old breeze through the numbers and trends of each Blackcaps jaunt in the white clothing. But two Test series aren’t much fun for those, particularly not one when the same few blokes did most of the damage. Tom Latham scored 450 runs with two tons against Sri Lanka. Angelo Mathews was dismissed only once for a series average of 258. Tim Southee and Trent Boult took 24 wickets between them. It was a great couple matches, no doubt about it, but I’ve got a better idea for this piece instead.
2018 was a brilliant year for the Blackcaps in Test cricket. Three series all won. Seven matches with only one defeat (four wins and two draws). All super competitive series which required crucial contributions from all number of players, from established batting veterans to previously uncapped spinners. There was an innings win against England in Auckland (the day-nighter when Boult & Southee combined to bowl England out for 58 in the first innings) followed by a scrappy draw in Christchurch (Ish Sodhi’s monster batting effort). That was followed by a 2-1 series win in the UAE with all the wonders that entailed, now a 1-0 win over two Tests against Sri Lanka.
You can breeze through all the individual scorecards here to refresh the memory, what I wanna do is look at the combined numbers and see which lads stand out across the whole year of Test cricket.
Curiously there were eight blokes who played all seven Tests in 2018. Neil Wagner missed one game in the UAE where things weren’t really in his favour, same for the two that Tim Southee sat out, and then that spinner gig was left open to various chaps with Mitchell Santner out injured. No changes to the batsmen all year.
There were three batsmen who stood out above the rest of them in terms of run scoring and no real surprises who they were because they’ve all been cashing in most recently. Kane Williamson goes without saying. His 651 runs at an average of 59.18 came with two tons and three more scores of fifty-plus in 12 visits to the crease. This was the fifth straight year that he’s averaged at least 47 with the bat, if we take things back to the start of 2014 then he’s scored at an average of 64.12 across his last 73 Test innings with 15 tons and 4071 runs (only Steve Smith has a better average in that time). Took a little while to get settled in the first third of his career but the next two thirds have been absolutely elite class.
This year actually saw Captain Kane being a little wasteful because despite how good the numbers look he should really have had a whole lot more. He began the year with a 102 against England at Eden Park but then only passed fifty once in his next six innings (including a golden duck in Christchurch vs ENG) before demolishing Pakistan in the series decider with 89 and 139. That 89 was the top score in a tricky innings and a valuable one as the match progressed but it was still a century gone begging. Not as bad as his 91 at the Basin Reserve against Sri Lanka though. He was cruising towards a magical ton at just under a run a ball when he swept one straight to backward square off a part-timer. Then he got 2 on Boxing Day with Suranga Lakmal doing excellent things before looking much sharper for 48 in the second go around only to again let it slide away, dismissed nudging one away to slip at 189/1. An average a shade under 60 and that’s a sloppy one? Jeez, he’s good.
The other two in the triumphant trio of 2018 are, of course, the two big run scorers of the last Test: Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls. Latham did not start things on fire. He scored a 112-ball 26 against England at Eden Park and followed that with a duck in the second Test. He then scored 83, 13, 0, 22, 50, 4 and 10 which took us all the way to the Sri Lanka series… where he scored 264no, 10 and 176. Rightio then, that’ll take care of that trouble. 264 not out is the sixth highest score ever by a New Zealander and it’s the highest score by any batsman this year by a fair distance – Mushfiqur Rahim from Bangladesh was the only other man to score a double century in 2018 (219* against Zimbabwe). His 176 was also the fifth top score for the year. Virat Kohli has five centuries in 2018 but none bigger than 153.
Latham’s Test average had dipped down as low as 36.27 but is now sitting pretty at 41.59. Only John Wright has more runs and more tons as a Blackcaps opener. Of players with more than 10 Tests, only Glenn Turner, Bert Sutcliffe and Mark Richardson have better averages as NZ Test openers. 658 runs in 12 innings, having faced 1528 deliveries. That’s a lot of leaves and a lot of forward defensives.
Chuck in Henry Nicholls too who scored valuable runs the whole way through. His first year in the Test team was dead average. An average of 24.23 through 14 innings. He stepped that up in 2017 with his first hundy, averaging 41.88 for the year from 10 knocks. But this year, mate, this year was the one. 658 runs – exactly the same number of runs as Tom Latham but with a couple extra not-outs – at an average of 73.11. Who averaged more than Hank Nicholls this year in Tests? A couple folks but nobody who batted more than four times. In fact if you set the catch at 300 runs then the top three batting averages on the planet this year were Nicholls, Latham and Williamson in that order. Then, naturally, Virat Kohli in fourth.
Nicholls’ average was propped up by three unbeaten centuries, including his career best 162no at the end of it. He also passed 50 on three other occasions though, so it’s not like he was all rocks or diamonds… although having said that he did also have two ducks and two scores of 1 in his 12 bats this year. Obviously still a bloke who is vulnerable early on but when he gets in it’s all over.
What else do we have here? Not a great year for Ross Taylor. Only passed fifty twice in 12 innings. His year went 20, 2, 13 (ENG), 2, 19, 0, 82, 0, 22 (PAK), 50, 27, 40 (SRL). It wasn’t all dull, along the way he passed Brendon McCullum for second all-time in runs scored for New Zealand. Only Stephen Fleming to follow and he needs just 649 more runs to get there – he should get that done within a year or two and he should get a year or two of holding that record until Kane Williamson inevitably comes surging past him.
Jeet Raval wasn’t at his best for a lot of the year, not even scoring a fifty until the last knock of the year with his 74 against Sri Lanka. That average and that run total tell that story clear enough but to be fair to him he’s been mostly doing his job lately, getting good starts that allow Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor to come to the crease in beneficial conditions. He was crap against England but in the two more recent series he got a start of at least 30 in every Test. Lots more to be written about Jeet Raval’s position in the squad but it is a little better than it looks, thankfully. BJ Watling’s been through a similar run of form as well, gotta say. It’s been two and a half years since he scored a Test century and even that was against Zimbabwe, before that you’ve gotta go to May 2015 in England. But he also keeps getting tough runs that tie the middle and lower order together. The Anti-Collapse is BJ Watling. Three fifties and a 46 this year for proof. Gone past 3000 Test runs too, which makes him only the 14th Kiwi to do so.
Colin de Grandhomme… okay. Until his final innings his 2018 year in Tests with the willow read: 29, 72 & 45 against England, which is nice… then 0, 3, 0, 14, 20 & 26 against Pakistan, which is horrific… then 49 & 1 against Sri Lanka which is somewhere in between. Aaand then he came to the crease and smashed NZ’s fastest Test fifty on his way to 71 not out off 45 deliveries. That is CDG doing what CDG does best. Only thing with that is he came to the crease at 461/4 with a lead of over 500 so… not exactly the hardest stage to bat in. You can forgive CDG and Raval for that though when they’d never before played a Test match away from home until the UAE series.
The top seven, other than some cheeky switches in the order, were unchanged all year. Will Young was brought in for the last series but didn’t play, this is as solid a top order as the Caps have had in ages. Certainly the top five or six. Elsewhere we’ve got a couple battling fifties for Tim Southee, the kinds of innings he’s been teasing for ages now. His 68 against Sri Lanka in the second Test was essential to turning the momentum in that decider. Same goes for Ish Sodhi whose 56 not out against England literally saved the series victory. The rest of them offered nothing in terms of runs but Neil Wagner did play a part in his partnership with Sodhi in that match.
Same deal right here as two predictable blokes dominated the red ball for the Blackcaps. We’ll get to them in a second but first let’s pour one out for Neil Wagner’s incredible run of wickets, which took a halt this year with only 14 wickets taken at a shade under 40… a stretch which was a lot worse before he took 4/48 in the last innings of the year (without that Test we were looking at a yearly average of 49.2 for Wags). A strike rate of a wicket every 94 balls and change, which is narrowly worse than CDG’s over the same time, pretty simply not what we’ve come to expect from Wagnut. In 2017 he took 36 wickets at 25.47 and in 2016 he took 41 at 21.04. Hey, he was bound to drop back to earth eventually and he’ll probably get ten-for in the first Test against Bangladesh in two months because that’s what he does.
Speaking of CDG, Colin was pretty similar actually with his straight up and down seamers outside that off stump. A four-for against England was the only time he took more than two wickets in an innings and in the Pakistan and Sri Lanka series he honestly just didn’t get the overs in – only once bowling more than 13 in an innings. 13 times six is 78 deliveries and his calendar strike rate with the ball was 93.8 deliveries (even higher than his strike rate with the bat!) so not much of a chance to do anything. CDG’s in an odd position which has become regular for the Blackcaps over the last couple decades: the all-rounder who wouldn’t make the team as a batsman or a bowler but does a little of both quite well. Well enough to chip in every few Tests with a big contribution. More consistency would be nice but we’ve got reliable options with both bat and ball who tend to get it done before he gets the chance and, right now, there isn’t really anybody else demanding all-rounder selection.
No Matt Henry. The seam attack only changed when they wanted an extra spinner so the same four pace bowlers rolled the arm over for every page of the calendar. However there was no shortage of spinners in the rotation for 2018. We started with Todd Astle and Ish Sodhi and ended with Will Somerville and Ajaz Patel and that’s without mentioning the injured Mitch Santner. Astle played one Test and injury prevented him from adding to that. In that Test, the day-nighter at Eden Park, he batted once and scored 18. He didn’t bowl in the first innings and only got the ball in his hand on day five but he did chip in with three wickets including the final scalp on the way to a Test victory, so that was cool.
Ish Sodhi also got a memorable moment in that England series but it was with the bat. As far as his bowling went, he only got through 60 overs in three Tests so not ideal. A little leaky with the economy rate and only bowled one maiden in all that time. Something to work on there – though you still get the feeling he isn’t being used properly in this team… whatever happened to the old in-out field? Protect those pressure-releasing boundaries, while still attacking. Anyway, he fell down the pecking order one spot as Ajaz Patel leapt onto the scene.
Leapt onto the scene with seven wickets on Test debut including 5/59 in an incredible second innings bowling his team to victory away from home and, as we know, keeping it simple. It was enough to keep him in the side as the number one spinner for the two games against Sri Lanka… although rewards were tougher to come by there. 43 overs without a wicket. He did keep things tight in terms of runs but he also got a real taste of what Sodhi and Astle already know which is the struggle of a Test spinner in NZ conditions where you get no support from the wicket or the team strategy and you’re lucky if you get through 15 overs in any innings. Patel took a wicket in every innings against Pakistan and didn’t get a single wicket against Sri Lanka. He only bowled three first innings overs in the entire SL series. Drags his career average back to 35.84 but with 13 wickets he was fourth on the Blackcaps list this year.
As for Will Somerville, his was an incredible story but he’ll get better odds on never playing another Test than he will of repeating the dose. Santner and Patel are definitely ahead of him. Sodhi and Astle were picked ahead of him and only missed out in that Test because of a mix of variation and injury. But you can’t hold that against Willie, who was chucked in there out of the blue and stepped up to help his nation to a series victory away from home. 4/75 in the second innings there. Outstanding. He has a better Test bowling average than Sir Richard Hadlee.
Which brings us to the piece de resistance… the opening bowlers. Tim Southee got a full on exploration a week or two ago as his newfound vulnerability in the Test side – being the dude who gets dropped when they need an extra spinner, although Wagner might have since taken that one back from him – has coincided with some of the best form of his career. This year he was amazing, taking 29 wickets at 19.03 and a strikerate of 43.8. Those are top tier numbers and combine them with Trent Boult who was only slightly worse off with 33 wickets at 23.90 and 2018 saw the new ball duo back to their best individually and as a tandem.
Never was that more clear than in the first innings of the year when England were bowled out for 58 with Boult and Southee taking all ten wickets without a bowling change. Boult took 6/32 that day and took 6/30 against Sri Lanka last week. Two six-fors in the same year, the second one was utterly captivating as he took all six of those wickets within fifteen deliveries.
Boult had his slow days in between, to be fair. He was magic against England with 15 wickets in the two Tests but outside four-for in the first innings in the UAE it didn’t really go his way. Then in the first Test against Sri Lanka he had to let his old mate do the damage before waiting for his turn in the second, with match figures of 9/107. Just as how he got 9/99 in the Eden Park Test vs ENG. Boulty only played seven Test matches so he ended up 17th on the global list of wicket takers in 2018 however he did have two of the top eight best innings figures of the year. Over the last two years Boult has taken 60 wickets at an average of 24.3.
But yeah, good as that sounds Tim Southee was even better. Among bowlers who completed at least 200 overs in Tests this year he’s third in average, behind Mohammad Abbas (38 @ 13.76) and Vernon Philander (32 @ 17.03). Timmy may have missed some time in this time but he’s taken a wicket in each of his last thirty innings going back to February 2016. Timbo also happened to have multiple six-fors this year, getting 6/62 against England in Chch and then his 6/68 against Sri Lanka at the Basin. Put simply it was the best year of his career, as far as the numbers go. And those numbers are starting to tally up… both Southee and Boult have been climbing up the all-time list of wickets for Aotearoa, sitting third and fourth now respectively.
That’s a pretty little list, that one. The Blackcaps now switch focus to the white ball for the next month before Bangladesh pop over for three Tests in March. There’s then a bloody World Cup in the middle of 2019 and they’ve got a tour of Aussie at the end of the year to get pumped over too. Before that there’s supposed to be a couple Tests away in Sri Lanka in August as the new Test Championship kicks into existence.
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