Kolkata: On the last day of his international career, New Zealand wicketkeeper BJ Watling dislocated his right ring finger in the first session of extra day’s play of their World Test Championship final against India on Wednesday. It was a nasty knock, but the hard-as-nails Watling continued with his job manfully behind the stumps after some medical attention.
The 35-year-old, who had been a vital cog in New Zealand’s journey to the marquee final, surely didn’t want to miss out on what turned to be their biggest moment of glory in the sport - with due respect to the ICC Champions Trophy which they won two decades back. It also tells you something about the work ethic of this New Zealand unit - dedicated, professional but unfussy who believe that aggression is something best harnessed within.
It’s a strange coincidence that the World Test Championship cycle started in 2019 with the Ashes series, right on the back of New Zealand’s heartbreak in the ICC World Cup final when England beat them by virtue of hitting more boundaries in the final. It was, incidentally, the second straight World Cup final that the Kiwis lost - the previous one being in 2015 final to Australia in Melbourne.
The evolution of the Black Caps from a smart cricketing nation in the white ball variety - full of innovations - to a formidable Test team at home had been nothing short of extraordinary. They have had their share of great batsmen in the shape of Glenn Turner, Martin Crowe, Stephen Fleming and Brendan McCullum but a collective firepower in bowling came in the way of them completing the job in Test cricket.
The problem was addressed with the arrival of a pair of extraordinary swing bowling talent in Trent Boult and Tim Southee and New Zealand began turning the corner under the leadership of McCullum, their knight in shinning armour. Kane Williamson, who emerged from the same 2008 Under-19 World Cup alongwith Virat Kohli, took over the reins and gradually built a resilient force.
The legacy of this unit, which can be rightfully called the golden generation, will be a huge one after Wednesday. Ross Taylor, the elder statesman of the team at 37 and actually a peer of McCullum is enjoying a final flourish; Neil Wagner, the spunky new ball bowler, is 35 while pace aces Boult and Southee are already in their early thirties.
Williamson, now 30, and his deputy Tom Latham, 29, are two of the younger members of the core group who had been through this incredible two-year journey. The next thing on their agenda, once the next WTC cycle comes around, will be to prove that they have the ability to do it overseas as well and in all conditions, though they would need to groom at least two decent spinners for the job.
Till then, it’s a job well done by Kane’s able men. Thank you for showing the world that nice guys don’t need to finish last!