Cricket-New Zealand's WTC triumph shows nice guys can finish first

·3 min read
ICC World Test Championship Final - India v New Zealand

By Amlan Chakraborty

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Long sneered at as the "nice guys" of the sport, New Zealand's victory in the World Test Championship (WTC) is being seen as validation of their own reserved brand of cricket.

Kane Williamson and his men defied India, and Southampton's wet weather, to become test cricket's first world champions, earning praise as much for their attitude as their aptitude.

New Zealand's impeccable conduct has been almost an anachronism in the cut-throat world of cricket where confrontations are routine and send-offs ugly.

The country's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern touched on that point when praising the "brilliant and humble squad" in her congratulatory message.

"Over a number of years now we have seen the development of a team and team culture that has taken New Zealand cricket to world beating heights," she said.

Even disheartened India fans, who often struggle to digest such defeats, doffed their caps to New Zealand, who former England captain Mike Atherton called "everybody's second favourite team" after the win.

Pace spearhead Trent Boult's transformation from a cocky youngster to "Lovely Trenty" explains how the humble approach has worked for New Zealand.

"I definitely play my best cricket, or I bowl my best, when I'm, well, I'm definitely smiling, I'm running around a bit, I'm doing bloody funky circles and appealing and whatever it is," Boult told The Cricket Monthly earlier this month.

But their upbeat outlook has not blunted their performances, with New Zealand reaching the semi-finals of each of the last four 50-overs World Cups, finishing runner-up in 2015 and 2019.

They went into the WTC final as the world's top-ranked test team having won seven of their last eight matches, including two against Virat Kohli's India last year.

Their approach stands in stark contrast to that of trans-Tasman rivals Australia, who not only espoused a ruthless brand of cricket but also ridiculed New Zealand's approach.

Former Australia wicketkeeper Brad Haddin admitted to sledging several New Zealand players in the 2015 World Cup final for making him "uncomfortable" with their "nice" demeanour.

Australia's win-at-all-costs approach was blamed for the 2018 ball-tampering scandal in South Africa, which forced a cultural review of their cricket.

Suspensions were handed out and the captaincy passed on but three years since "Sandpapergate" the scars are still visible as Australia continue to struggle on the field.

In the end, though, New Zealand's humility and grace on the field only made them more likable -- they triumphed in the WTC because of their skill and never-say-die spirit.

If there was one player in that playing XI whose career best reflected that, it was retiring wicketkeeper BJ Watling.

"He's a special member, a leader in that group, and really epitomises what this team's about...," Williamson said in his tribute.

"It's pretty fitting to send him off with ... a scrappy performance which is close to his heart."

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Peter Rutherford)

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