Blowing hot and cold
New Zealand's performances in 2013 tracked like a bungee jump. Up and down they boinged, leaving the impression of a shaken but successful quest for survival.
Test hidings from world No. 1 South Africa, after the odious captaincy saga, were followed by a courageous ODI series victory. Vast Test improvements came in the drawn home series against England, tempered by batting collapses away at Lord's and Headingley.
Another ODI series victory in England was followed by a rain-affected Champions Trophy where they missed the semi-finals. A lost ODI series in Bangladesh and drawn Tests failed to inspire, as did the rain-affected limited overs' series in Sri Lanka, yet the team justifiably enter the New Year upbeat after conquering West Indies 2-0 across three Tests.
They lost four out of six away Tests to South Africa and England before drawing two with Bangladesh. At home they drew four (three versus England, one versus West Indies) and won two (against West Indies). In one-dayers, they won seven and lost nine. In T20s, they won three and lost three. In short, it was a typical New Zealand year but an improvement on 2012's annus horribilis. The search for consistency continues.
The quartet of Ross Taylor (866 runs at 72.16), Kane Williamson (747 runs at 41.50), Trent Boult (46 wickets at 25.08) and Tim Southee (36 wickets at 24.94) played starring Test roles. The highlights were Taylor's three centuries in consecutive Tests against West Indies, Williamson's consistency (he went past 40 in ten of his 19 innings), and ten-wicket bags from Boult and Southee at the Basin Reserve and Lord's respectively.
Martin Guptill and Mitchell McClenaghan led the limited-overs contingent. Guptill's consecutive ODI centuries against England, including the highest score by a New Zealander, 189 not out in Southampton, were a triumph. He topped the batting averages with 57.71 in ten ODIs, and 50 from three T20s.
The captain, Brendon McCullum, gave McClenaghan the new white ball and he obliged with 35 wickets in 14 ODIs at 20.08 in his debut year. He took 14 more wickets than the next most effective bowler, Kyle Mills. McClenaghan also topped the charts in T20s with seven wickets at 29.85 from seven matches.
Daniel Vettori's future remains the biggest concern on the personnel front. He played three matches in the Champions Trophy but eventually had surgery on his Achilles tendon in a bid to prolong his career as far as the World Cup. He opted out of taking a national contract.
Tributes were also paid to Chris Martin who retired after more than 12 years of international service. His performances placed him among New Zealand's most successful - but underrated - cricketers. In 71 Tests, he took 233 wickets at 33.81 - third on New Zealand's all-time wicket list. He never appeared affected by the trappings of fame that can come with professional sporting success. For most of his career he was the most articulate player in the team, a default choice for journalists seeking insightful analysis delivered with a common touch.
In administrative circles the highlight was the World Cup preparations. Led by Therese Walsh, the New Zealand operation unveiled a "patriotism over profit" vision which revealed an even split (21 out of 42) of pool matches with Australia, a quarter-final in Wellington and a semi-final in Auckland. Cricket Australia might receive two-thirds of the tournament profits via ticket sales to New Zealand Cricket's one-third but the key objective was to get as much cricket to as many destinations to enhance the game's goodwill, like that fostered in 1992.
After a tumultuous 2012 at board level, a new NZC constitution was agreed upon in September and four past board members were replaced. Three former players - Sir Richard Hadlee, Martin Snedden and Geoff Allott - were among those elected. NZC made a net profit of NZ$151,189 for the year ending July 31.
In other initiatives, Christchurch's new Hagley Oval was approved for construction after submissions to the Environment Court, meaning the city will return to hosting international cricket after the earthquake-enforced hiatus. The ground will host the World Cup opener in 2015.
New Zealand secured their first victory in a three-Test series in eight seasons, a 2-0 defeat of West Indies in December. Taylor led the way, becoming the second New Zealander after Mark Burgess (November 1969 to February 1972) to score centuries in three consecutive Tests. His concentration to advance the cause will be the series' abiding memory. Boult (20 wickets at 15.40) and Southee (18 wickets at 18.11) delivered the rout, yet all players contributed with significant runs, wickets, catches or run outs for a holistic feel.
If there's an upside, at least the Cape Town "45" happened on the second day of the year. Following the Taylor captaincy saga, and missing Jesse Ryder, Vettori and Southee, New Zealand were dismissed for 45 after McCullum chose to bat in his first Test as captain. The gilded lettering can't have been far off the ball. Eyewitnesses said people yelled, "What have you done today?" as the team trudged to their bus after stumps. It was the country's third-lowest total and the shortest Test innings of all time (19.2 overs). Even the 26 all out, in 1955, lasted 27 overs. It was New Zealand's lowest total since the 1946 side was dismissed for 42 against Australia in Wellington, and the lowest in Tests since India were shredded for 42 at Lord's in 1974.
New kid on the block
Corey Anderson, McClenaghan and Hamish Rutherford were candidates but legspinner Ish Sodhi edges them. As Vettori struggled for fitness the focus moved to his successors. Sodhi might have 11 Test wickets at 51.45 but Shane Warne, who Sodhi is comparing notes with at the Boxing Day Test this week, started slow too. The 21-year-old's googly and topspinner were effective against West Indies. With a batting average of 30.40 after five Tests he's also demanding inclusion at No. 8 ahead of Southee.
What 2014 holds
It's a more upbeat outlook than at the end of last year. Consistent, logical selection policies are in place following Bruce Edgar's appointment as general manager of national selection and the meritocratic approach of coach Mike Hesson. New Zealand are well placed to reduce perceptions of an easybeat reputation. The Tests against India are a starting point: Santa will surely stuff some green pitches down the chimney for Boult and Southee. The tour to the West Indies is another where the team can gain credibility; the matches against Pakistan in the UAE will be trickier.
In limited-overs formats, the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh looks impossible to predict, but with proven short-form players like Guptill, Ryder, and McClenaghan, New Zealand's chances improve.
From an administrative perspective the lion's share of preparation will be done for the 2015 World Cup. It should be a treat if Walsh and her team show anything like the organisational nous of this year.