2019 Cricket World Cup: The Greatest ... And Matua.


At the time of writing this, England have just won their semi-final against Australia to set up a World Cup final between England and Aotearoa. For me, this is the craziest match up possible considering that these two teams have gone about preparing for the 2019 World Cup very, very differently and to the point that it was incredibly frustrating as a kiwi cricket fan to see such little focus on winning a World Cup.

England started their preparation for this World Cup, for this exact moment after their terrible WC campaign in 2015. They figured out how they want to play, what players they needed and gave these players time to suss out their craft in the ODI arena. Everything England did in those four years has put them in this position, all while I was scratching my head at what the Blackcaps were up to.

The Blackcaps have made the final and can definitely win it all. None of which excuses the nonsensical preparation period, most notably last summer and any other shenanigans from NZC. Remember that Mike Hesson stepped aside as Blackcaps coach last year, giving Gary Stead just under 12 months to prepare his troops for a World Cup and even then, it felt like Gavin Larsen still had his grubby mits all over different selection decisions throughout the kiwi summer.

This is where I bring in captain Kane Williamson. A lot has been made about Williamson's captaincy, more so than his batsmanship after the semi-final win and all of that is fine. I don't really view anything Williamson did, or has done as a on-field skipper as particularly awesome in how he uses his bowlers or shuffles fielders around. I kinda just see Williamson as operating as I'd like an international captain to, or as a cricket-nerd with almost nine years international cricket experience to operate.

And so I pondered Williamson, meditating on Williamson (who may dabble in meditation himself) and everything became crystal clear. Williamson sits among Aotearoa's best leaders, not because of what he does on the field with the Blackcaps but because this Blackcaps group has Williamson's grubby mits all over it. You'll struggle to find a kiwi sports leader who has shaped their group - far more than the team - in the way Williamson has and Williamson's success in leading the Blackcaps to a WC final sits in how he has absorbed all his learnings from Brendon McCullum, Mike Hesson and IPL experiences etc, blending them in with his own ideals to create an environment, a culture destined for success.

On the field, Williamson is in constant discussion with Ross Taylor. Trent Boult was effectively enabled to tinker with the field and despite being an over qualified 12th man, Tim Southee was not only ready to rip in as a sub-fielder for Henry Nicholls vs India, Southee offered his few cents on tactical matters. These insights suggest that while Williamson takes a lot of credit (and criticism) for his on-field captaincy, there is more of a group/committee vibe to those decisions and perhaps most notably; Williamson has built this atmosphere, allowing for such contributions to flourish.

That's the beauty of Williamson's captaincy and it's far easier to see this all now, because of the pieces that have been stripped away. Hesson kinda threw the Blackcaps into the deep end, stepping down just as WC prep should have been reaching a climax and in came coach Stead. With BJ Watling on the selection panel to pick a coach and Williamson undoubtedly consulted in the process, I'd suggest that a key idea from that was to limit the change and when Stead was selected, he basically said he would slow integrate his style into this Blackcaps group.

The opposite of that is what tends to happen more often as a coach comes in to overhaul a group. Stead had to come into what was now Williamson's group, Stead had to fit into what Williamson was doing after Hesson left and it was now up to Williamson to forge ahead on the same cultural path that B-Mac and Hesson started, while blending in Stead as the new coach.

Williamson doesn't seem to have any great impact on the Blackcaps 1st 11 and if Williamson doesn't, coach Stead definitely doesn't. Some may celebrate Williamson's faith in Martin Guptill, although it would be monumentally bonkers to drop Guptill at any stage in this WC considering his standing in world cricket and then the shambles of his opening partner. Some may suggest that Williamson has stuck by Mitchell Santner, to which I would say Santner has had immense faith shown in him by all of his Blackcaps leaders and then perhaps someone may point to Lockie Ferguson as being boosted by Williamson; Ferguson's rise is by his own doing and him tapping into his potential.

While Williamson may not appear to have had a great impact, like McCullum he has stamped his vibe all over this Blackcaps group. This is a Blackcaps culture that rallies behind Guptill to offer space for him to flourish in the field, a culture where Southee plays his role with no sulking and Colin de Grandhomme feels so comfortable that he's trying to ramp slower balls. Right or wrong, everyone plays their natural game and their comrades do whatever needs to be done to help the individual, thus helping their team in any way possible.

Taylor has been through a fair amount with the Blackcaps, playing four nine different captains and of those nine captains, five of them have captained Taylor in 20+ games; Stephen Fleming, Brendon McCullum, Daniel Vettori, Williamson and Taylor himself. Of those five captains, Taylor averages over 50 for just one captain and that's 62.11 for skipper Williamson.

Taylor's next best average is 73.40, in eight games under Tom Latham. That's come in the Williamson environment when Latham is stepping in as skipper and it's clear that Williamson's captaincy, the culture he has enhanced is extracting every slither of greatness out of Taylor. Much of Williamson's captaincy revolves around what Williamson does, as we would expect from any kiwi as we pride ourselves on being the type of jokers who are more about what we do, less about what we say we'll do. As skipper, Williamson averages 50.74 and while that's only a slight jump from the 48.64avg under McCullum, Williamson's consistent productivity as skipper is what drives this Blackcaps team.

These numbers take on a whole new meaning when we consider the Blackcaps in this WC bubble. Of the 30 batsmen who have scored 250+ runs in this WC, Williamson and Taylor are the only kiwis. You can point at other players, specifically bowlers who have played well throughout this WC but there are three examples of WIlliamson's wizardry as captain that stand out above everything else; Williamson's runs, Taylor's runs and the fielding vibe.

Williamson's runs mean he is leading by example and while McCullum was a great leader of men, Williamson's greatness is in his actions. We all know Taylor's Blackcaps history and Williamson offers immense respect for matua Taylor in welcoming his on-field input, while creating an environment that has taken Taylor to a nek level.

The fielding vibe isn't about fielding placement. The Blackcaps have three world-class players right now (Williamson, Taylor, Boult) and a team of great job-doing cricketers, what makes the Blackcaps a WC finalist is their fielding. This isn't anything new and is something that we pride our cricket teams on, but what is kinda new is that compared to the 2015 Blackcaps or Blackcaps ODI teams of note in the past, this team doesn't quite have the same level of talent, or player in form.

Consider the preparation for this WC as well as the talent/form levels and it could be argued that Williamson has less to work with than previous Blackcaps captains, or more potently other WC captains. Hence fielding is so important and Williamson has this Blackcaps group firing in the field, game-influencing plays are made consistently in the field regardless of how that player is trucking with bat or ball, regardless of who the opponent is.

Williamson and matua Taylor have dragged this Blackcaps team to a final with their runs, while everyone involved has contributed to a Blackcaps group that demands effort in those one-percenter plays. Such is the culture of this group, driven by Williamson, that I can see Guptill exploding in the final. But if he doesn't and even if runs, or wickets don't flow freely, Williamson's tentacles will ensure that the Blackcaps are in the mix purely via their low key kiwi spirit.

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Peace and love 27.