New Zealand show that size doesn't matter
New Zealand's rise to the top of Group C and a quarter-final tie against Australia in the Under-19 World Cup is an achievement that cannot be taken lightly, a pointer to how a nation with a population of less than five million people, where cricket is not the No.1 sport, punches well above its weight. Last year, the men rode a terrible run of injuries to reach the final of the Champions Trophy and the women reached the finals of both limited-overs World Cups; now, the kids are doing alright.
Traditionally, rugby is the most popular sport in New Zealand and the historic success of the All Blacks is well documented. However, it is their consistent performance on the cricket pitch that deserves greater attention and praise - especially when you consider the populations of some of the other international cricketing giants.
Cricket, and more specifically Test cricket, has struggled to capture the imagination of the New Zealand public in the same way as rugby has, particularly since the 1992 World Cup. Without doubt, the pure form of the game is regarded as the pinnacle by those who play cricket seriously; however, with attendances at home Test matches dwindling, it seems the shorter forms of the game, particularly Twenty20, have posed some competition to an 80-minute rugby game and stimulated greater interest in numbers through the turnstiles.
It doesn't seem to be much of an issue with New Zealand's players. Opener Harry Boam says that, even though other countries may have a greater population to draw players from, it comes down to performing on the day. "At the end of the day it's still our best eleven against the best eleven of another country so we've still got eleven guys that can match it with any country, we just probably don't have as many guys below that that are as good as their equals in another country."
"The cream of the crop for us is as good as anywhere else in the world, it's just the lack of depth means when there's injuries we struggle to back it up."
Boam believes New Zealanders thrive under the tag of 'the under-dog' and that is what allows New Zealand to compete on the international sports field.
"I think we like being the underdogs because we've got nothing to lose from it. Being smaller and generally seen as the underdogs, we're not used to the label of favourites."
"I think when we have our noses in front we tend to struggle under that mantle. I guess we find it difficult being favourites because we focus on the fact that if we make one mistake there's the repercussions to deal with."
In the current tournament, New Zealand have produced three comprehensive victories against Canada, by nine wickets, and Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, both by seven wickets. While Boam has really stood out with his dexterity at the top of the innings, scoring 172 runs in three innings whilst only being dismissed once, New Zealand's performances have been highlighted by some electric fielding and constructing solid partnerships with both bat and ball.
New Zealand boast three players with first-class experience in the tournament - Corey Anderson (Canterbury), Boam (Wellington) and Doug Bracewell (Central Districts) - but, most importantly, they have proved that there is more to winning matches than just relying on one or two stars.
New Zealand has relied instead on a true team effort, particularly with the ball and in the park. Their seam attack has ripped through the top orders of Canada, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, yet none have grabbed a bag of wickets, even though they have taken all ten wickets in each match.
The wickets have been shared around with Logan van Beek claiming seven, Tim Johnston and Doug Bracewell six each, and Ben Wheeler five. It's the sort of collective effort characteristic of a cricketing culture not blessed with depth but can depend on every player putting his hand up when needed.
Marc Ellison was the New Zealand captain at the 2006 Under-19 World Cup