New Zealand v West Indies, Super Eights, World Twenty20, Pallekele October 1, 2012

Niceness only gets you so far, NZ

Despite their excellent record in world tournaments, New Zealand lack an edge to their cricket

Less than a fortnight after receiving their Spirit Of Cricket Award, New Zealand already seem to have done enough to win another. When a debutant bowler was hit in the face, Brendon McCullum and Rob Nicol - never mind his Italian mob guy looks - didn't for a moment think of running off the ricochet, instead showing concern for Akila Dananjaya. It becomes all the more significant when you look at the result: a tied Super Eights match against Sri Lanka, after which the Super Over - not quite as preposterous as the bowl-out, yet not quite cricket - denied them the points.

It is tempting to think how many other batsmen would have reacted in a similar manner in a format where hitting and running like hell is just the thing to do. Forget the spirit of cricket, though. New Zealand have won hearts over the years with their show at world events: their seven semi-finals in 14 World Cups across formats is second only to Australia's semi-final record.

They haven't gone past any of those semi-finals, though. So they are a general nice team that try hard, reach the last four, but mean no offence. They were not even behind the change of water suppliers at this World Twenty20, although their players suffered the most gastric problems. It is endearing all right for neutral supporters, but their fans and players have to be sick of these frustrating misses.

They might be massive overachievers to some, but on days like the last day of matches in their Super Eights group, you wonder if there are bigger underachievers around. They had no business losing, and they had only themselves to blame. Despite stomach bugs, sore Achilles, a key player's personal issues keeping him out and botched batting orders, on pitches increasingly helping spinners, they still came to within scoring 140 in 20 overs with 10 wickets in hand of giving themselves a fair chance of making it to their eighth World Cup semi-final.

Yet, with no obvious pressure of extraordinary bowling - not until Sunil Narine bowled the 17th and 19th overs for just five runs - their batsmen bottled it. They were up against three specialists bowlers, and Darren Sammy and other bits-and-pieces men, but no one other than Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum could score at more than a run a ball.

Taylor, the lone man on the burning deck, who almost single-handedly tied the game, and changed his gameplan on the spot to counter Marlon Samuels' 125kmph darts from two steps, was too gutted to talk about what happened. "We gave it our best. At times we didn't execute as we would have liked. We lost key moments in the game against Sri Lanka and again here today," was all he could say.

Ask him of the luck involved in the Super Over, and Taylor goes, "No, I think execution comes into it," Taylor said. "There's a bit of luck that goes into everything you do, but there's a lot of training and thought that goes into all aspects of the game. It just wasn't our day."

Niceness again. You want some badness from New Zealand at such times. You want them to complain of the seven runs that Steve Finn's kicking of stumps cost them. You want them to complain about the absurdity of a Super Over in non-knockout games. They just stay nice, racking up spirit-of-cricket points.

There is no empirical study that will tell you niceness equals lack of ruthlessness, or if New Zealand have not found themselves out of their depth in some of these semi-finals, but for once you want them to be dragged out of a World Cup. Kicking and screaming.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Lawrence on October 3, 2012, 13:31 GMT

    Give me New Zealander niceness any day of the week in comparison to Aussie ruthlessness. I don't accept the correlation being made between niceness and not winning. Clive Lloyd's West Indians had a global reputation for "niceness" - relax, drink a beer, walk when out - and it didn't reduce their victories. The analysis on NZ's losses should do deeper and not sensationalise or demonise a dimension that celebrates their humanity.

  • Ben on October 3, 2012, 2:01 GMT

    On balance, NZ shoulda, coulda, woulda qualified for the semi's. If they'd got one more run on either the SL or WI game, they'd have got through. But they didn't. They've got to look at their game and work out why they missed out. They had the experienced players to get them through but failed to execute. This is a management issue.

  • Peter on October 2, 2012, 19:54 GMT

    Well thanks to everyone who thinks we're a bunch of nice guys. Personally I'm sick and tired of losing. We have the players for T20 to win so we should win more often. The problem with losing so often is that even hard core cricket fans like me start losing interest. Ross Taylor batted well this tournament, but he needs to start being more agressive and showing that losing actually hurts him more than his softy softly interviews. Spirit of cricket award is a bit like a lucky dip prize at school where you're the only guy left who didnt win any prizes that are worth anything. Come on Rosco, show that it really hurts to lose or hand over the Captaincy to McCullum. I almost get the idea that winning reguaurly is something Rosco is a bit uncomfortable with, supreme excellence may put him in the limelight as a winner and I'm not sure he's totally comfortable with that either. Being a nice guy, now thats what seems to fit best.... unfortunately.

  • Dummy4 on October 2, 2012, 19:37 GMT

    But Niceness is what defines NZ, Thats why they are the second favorite team for most of the people!!

  • Abhi on October 2, 2012, 10:01 GMT

    salutes to you brendon...i thought it was an amazing gesture when i saw the match.. but never thought of the big picture in that they wud have won the match if he wasnt nice to the young spinner.. thanks to cricinfo for pointing that out and my admiration to brendon and kiwi team has grown further.. hope they win a big tournament in the near future..a team india fan...

  • Ammy on October 2, 2012, 7:38 GMT

    New Zealand's gesture was a good one and it should be emulated by others. Let cricket remain a game, not war. The point then is that why just keep an award for the spirit of cricket? Make it more objective! Gift a tournament to the top two spirit of cricket teams at the venue of the best team's choice and name it "THE SPIRIT OF CRICKET TOURNAMENT". The team making the least noise must also enjoy the privilege of extra referrals or maybe less harsher penalties. It is important because cricketers are the role models of millions across the world. We don't want to have mean, animal like role models. Lets not judge things on material gains alone!

  • niaz on October 2, 2012, 6:45 GMT

    Nicety has nothing to do with winning. WI team in 80s was humble and they were winning. For a population of a few millions NZ is a great team. Imagine they have 100 millions of people. They would have 10 or so teams as strong as current NZ team and their national team could beat AUS. Now they are beating other larger nations at some intervals. If they had 100 million people, they would have a Hadlee and a Bond in the team all the time.

  • Dummy4 on October 2, 2012, 6:37 GMT

    As a New Zealander I feel honored to be a stalwart supporter of a team associated with the aforementioned traits. With regard to performance yes it would be nice to win also but we realise that we have a limited player pool and population yet we are rarely ever easy beats on the international stage. We do extremely well with what we do have and by doing that, and continuing to do this as well as build upon past performances, combined with playing the game in such a spirit is suffice in my eyes.

  • Mahesh on October 2, 2012, 5:07 GMT

    I guess this is stretching things too far when there is no obvious correlation between being nice and winning. Not taking the single in the match against SriLanka defies all logic as it happened early in the game and there were so many things that could have changed. Remember NZ did not have anything similar in the WI match and they still tied. There are enough examples in sports to show that you can be nice and win - all the top tennis players (men) of today.

  • VINODK on October 2, 2012, 3:55 GMT

    Totally agree with the author , the Super Over is an absurdity in non-knockout games

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