New Zealand December 24, 2017

Meh in the middle

New Zealand's men's and women's sides failed to come close to being great in 2017

Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor both equalled the New Zealand record for most Test hundreds - 17 - held by Martin Crowe © Getty Images

The New Zealand men's and women's sides struck a glass ceiling in 2017. They dominated opposition ranked below them but often struggled to pierce through when teams with stronger reputations upped their intensity.

The men played seven Tests, defeating Bangladesh and West Indies 2-0 and losing 1-0 to South Africa.

The opening victory over Bangladesh in Wellington was significant in that the visitors' 595 for 8 declared was the highest first-innings total from which a Test had been lost.

New Zealand verged on drawing the three-match series against South Africa when the final day of the season was washed out with five wickets required and South Africa 95 runs behind in their second innings.

The first-choice top five illustrated New Zealand's batting strength across the year. All averaged over 40, with Ross Taylor (408 runs at 81.60) and Kane Williamson (566 runs at 62.88) leading the way.

Neil Wagner topped the wicket tallies with 36 at 25.47. The left-armer's delivery of penetrative, short-of-a-length bowling from first change proved a safety net if Trent Boult and Tim Southee could not strike. The first Test against West Indies provided an example. Wagner returned innings figures of 7 for 39, fourth best in New Zealand history.

Other milestones highlighted the Test side's consistency in recent years. Southee (against Bangladesh) and Boult (against West Indies) became the fifth and sixth New Zealanders to bring up 200 Test wickets.

Boult, in his 52nd match, was second fastest to the mark, sitting behind Sir Richard Hadlee (44) but in front of Southee (56), Chris Cairns (58), Chris Martin (62) and Daniel Vettori (63).

New Zealand's narrow win against Australia in the first Chappell-Hadlee Trophy game was a thrilling one, but also one of the few highlights of a disappointing year © Getty Images

Williamson and Taylor equalled the late Martin Crowe's New Zealand record of 17 Test centuries. Williamson's came as his side wrested control from South Africa in the third Test. Taylor reached his mentor Crowe's mark with the definitive innings of the second Test against West Indies.

When interviewed by Sky Television, Taylor offered an insight into his emotions as the mark loomed. "There was one moment out there. He [Crowe] always said when there's a butterfly, that's him. So I saw a butterfly when I was on about 70... that was pretty good."

Regaining the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy against a depleted Australia was a triumph on the one-day international front, but New Zealand lost series deciders against South Africa and India. The biggest disappointment was the tournament-ending five-wicket Champions Trophy defeat to Bangladesh in Cardiff.

New Zealand were demoted as the world's No.1-ranked T20 side after defeating Bangladesh 3-0, losing a one-off game to South Africa, and suffering a 2-1 defeat away to India - the first time the hosts had beaten the Black Caps in the format.

The women also stumbled at key junctures. Hopes of winning their first Rose Bowl in 18 years against Australia were dashed when the White Ferns lost the decider by five wickets with four balls to spare. However, Amy Satterthwaite created history during the opening victory. She became the second player after Kumar Sangakkara to score four consecutive ODI centuries.

New Zealand's Women's World Cup performance proved fruitless. India ousted them, winning the last round robin match by 186 runs to qualify for the semi-finals. The White Ferns' dismissal for 79 was their lowest score in 11 editions of the tournament. They finished outside the top four for the first time.

Amy Satterthwaite made 446 runs at 63.71 in 11 ODI innings this year © ICC

A dearth of internationals for the men through the New Zealand winter saw most contracted players disperse to the English County Championship or various T20 franchise leagues. In Mitchell McClenaghan's case, he opted out of his NZC contract in favour of working as a freelancer. His decision raised the question of whether making the Test side remains the pinnacle of a New Zealand playing career.

Elsewhere, Grant Elliott became the first New Zealander in more than 13 years to play an international in Pakistan. The 38-year-old featured for the World XI in the first of three Independence Cup matches in Lahore.

High point
The six-run Chappell-Hadlee Trophy victory over Australia at Eden Park was a reminder of why ODIs can be so compelling.

The visitors limped to 54 for 5 after 13 overs, chasing 287 to win, when Marcus Stoinis detonated the New Zealand attack on his way to 146 not out from 117 balls. He received a standing ovation on reaching his century from patrons more accustomed to jeering opposition after a thirsty day in the sun.

New Zealand held their nerve. A countering act of brilliance from Williamson to run out non-striker Josh Hazlewood - underarm from silly mid-on at the end of the 47th over - secured the win.

Low point
The washout on March 29, the final day of the season: New Zealand (without Taylor, Boult and Southee) were on the cusp of the country's second Test victory against South Africa in 20 attempts at home. They had grafted a 175-run lead and pinned the visitors at 80 for 5 before the puddles thwarted them. The disappointment was compounded, given New Zealand's response had come after suffering a three-day trouncing in Wellington.

New kid on the block
Finding a replacement Test wicketkeeper for BJ Watling looked a grim proposition a year ago. A hip injury to Watling saw Tom Blundell take the gloves against West Indies in Wellington.

Tom Blundell, the replacement keeper, made sure he wouldn't be forgotten, with a century on debut © Getty Images

Blundell became the 11th New Zealander to score a century - 107 not out - on debut. The 27-year-old batted patiently, particularly in a 78-run tenth-wicket stand with Boult, and stroked the ball elegantly through the covers and mid-on. He also took two catches and conceded seven byes across the series. BJ who?

Blundell's feat was framed by nostalgia. As an old boy of Wellington College, a school overlooking the Basin Reserve from the south, he spent his adolescence commuting past the ground. He was observed wandering home post-Test carrying his gear… and a commemorative stump.

What 2018 holds
New Zealand Cricket's penchant for two-Test series - as they endeavour to make the format more cost-effective - will strike again when England tour in March. The contest will see the country host its first day-night Test after Eden Park received resource consent.

A T20 summer tri-series with England and Australia will sate limited-overs fans, but like this year, there will be no winter Test tour. New Zealand next play Tests away against Pakistan during October and November.

At an administrative level, the eight-year Master Agreement between the governing body and the players' association ends in July 2018, and is expected to be re-negotiated in the interim.

Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday