New Zealand blossom under Hesson
The Test series victory against West Indies is a catalyst for New Zealand Cricket to negotiate with national coach Mike Hesson about extending his contract beyond next year's World Cup.
Hesson's achievements with the New Zealand team in two years indicate that he deserves the opportunity to develop this team beyond March 2015.
You could argue the uncertainty might keep him hungry to prove he has what it takes with a strong World Cup showing. However, three reasons suggest he has already taken the team to a level last seen in the early 2000s.
Relative Test success
Appointed in July 2012, after the national side was trounced in all formats on the previous West Indies tour, Hesson has tailored a balanced and talented Test side.
After inauspicious beginnings, which resulted in Ross Taylor's sacking as captain after five months and a collapse for 45 in Cape Town, Hesson's resolve and determination have garnered consistency.
Let's put his reign into context. Before last week's West Indies triumph, New Zealand had twice won three Test series in a row. The most recent was against Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and West Indies between April 2005 and March 2006. The first came between November 1985 and July 1986 against Australia home and away and England at home.
Beyond tours to Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, New Zealand had last won an overseas Test series in 2002, again against West Indies. Ouch. Before that? England in 1999. Fans could be in for some welcome respite.
Hesson has worked unobtrusively in the back room, allowing outstanding performances to decorate the shop window. Over summer he described himself as "no show pony" and a "clinical sort of bloke" who tries to "balance out the highs and lows". He's kept his word but offered a glimpse of pride in a recent nzcricket.co.nz blog.
Winning away from home is the ultimate. When you're asked to perform on pitches that are completely foreign to how you've molded yourself as a cricketer… away wins are rare and to be cherished.
As a team we're driven by series results. In the past we've almost flattered to deceive as we've won the odd game, and then we've lost a few. Even in our own minds we've not been able to be as consistent as we know we can. The fact we've been able to get three back-to-back series wins in different conditions shows we're certainly making progress.
Talkback stations, social media and online feedback forums have seldom hummed with such goodwill about the national side.
Before this year, the occasions are rare enough to be listed by month since Sir Richard Hadlee's retirement in 1990: February-March 1992 (World Cup), July-August 1999 (England Test series win), January-February 2002 (ODI tri-series in Australia), February 2007 (Chappell-Hadlee series whitewash). Slim pickings.
The only shame was that the result came as the English board delivered a life ban to former New Zealand cricketer Lou Vincent for his involvement in fixing matches. As the country's first professional sportsperson to be banned for life, Vincent's fate presented an item of such monumental news value it could not be ignored. Unfortunately it dulled the impact of a stellar Caribbean achievement. Still, the New Zealand players will at least get the opportunity to further showcase their skills; Vincent, despite his extensive mea culpa, will not.
Empowering the personnel
It might look like a phrase better suited to a soporific Powerpoint presentation on "motivation in the workplace" but it has been pivotal in the team's rejuvenation.
Professionalism, objectivity and effective communication have been pillars to a stable team platform. For instance, after the Taylor captaincy saga, Hesson took further tough stances when news leaked of Jesse Ryder and Doug Bracewell's late-night transgressions before the first India Test. They haven't played for New Zealand since. Hesson has helped snuff out recidivism. The pair might be more motivated if they are ever granted another chance.
Under Hesson's watch - and that of fellow national selector Bruce Edgar and captain Brendon McCullum - almost every Test player has established or reinforced their reputation since the start of the year.
The final Test against West Indies, in Barbados, was laden with examples, like Kane Williamson making his highest Test score of 161 not out. He even went to the extreme of eradicating all run-scoring opportunities from mid-off to cover to avoid lapsing into two minds and spooning or edging a catch. That's discipline. In addition, only 20 runs came between cover and point. Instead, he preferred to play late with soft hands, using the pace of the ball to work deliveries to the leg side, or to ease them between backward point and third slip. Eighty of his runs came behind square. A seventh Test century before the age of 24 suggests a legacy beckons.
Reinforcing Williamson's prowess was the responsible way his team-mates played 44 overs of spin in the second innings without surrendering a wicket when deliveries turned and bounced menacingly.
A coordinated bowling attack helped. Trent Boult and Tim Southee are established weapons, but they built partnerships, and consequent pressure, with Neil Wagner and Mark Craig. The latter usurped the primary spin spot from Ish Sodhi with his aggressive approach. He took 12 wickets at 40.28, compared to Sodhi's eight wickets at 28.50, but also averaged 64 resisting with the bat. Hesson has already pledged he'll be "patient and supportive" to help the pair evolve into top-quality spinners. The prospect of Daniel Vettori extending his Test career appears bleak.
Add to those performances the opening promise of Tom Latham (series average 48), the batting and slip fielding wisdom of Ross Taylor, the graft of BJ Watling and the confidence of Jimmy Neesham.
The only imminent change for the November tour to play Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, barring injury, will be the removal of Hamish Rutherford as opener.
Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday