There is no team flexing quite as hard as New Zealand at this World Cup right now. Three matches in, six points in the bank, they are parked in front of the gym mirror in a tight tank top, making their pecs dance to the hard house music playing in their airpods.
They might be alone in the establishment for now, because this, after all, is New Zealand. They are a team the cricket world is almost hard-coded not to take much notice of until the much later stages of a global event. But make no mistake. Them traps are popping. The forearms are rippling. Those shoulder muscles that have other muscles growing on them….yeah, they have those.
They have, of course, been done a favour by the scheduling, because their games so far have been against three of the four lowest-ranked teams in the competition, which is almost the ideal first week. The deadlifts and bench presses await, but for now, New Zealand are breezing nicely through the easy settings on the exercise bike.
The pitches, additionally, have also been the stuff of their dreams. The green-tinged track at Taunton was basically a Hamilton clone. The pitch at Cardiff for the opener against Sri Lanka might justifiably be cause for a copyright complaint from the Christchurch curator. Tree-lined grounds, lush outfields, bone-chilling breezes. If there were a few more drunks yelling curse-laden advice/abuse from the stands, this would basically be home.
Watch on Hotstar (India only) - Highlights of James Neesham's five-for
Nevertheless, it is an impressive start, not least because so many have shone already. The first win was set up by Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson, before openers Martin Guptill and Colin Munro put on their first century stand together. Their best batsman Ross Taylor then produced his first match-winning innings of the World Cup against Bangladesh.
James Neesham, the allrounder, is not one of the glory muscle groups, like the biceps, or the glutes. He's more like a quad - useful in most situations, without being an instant eye-catcher. But targeting Afghanistan's batsmen with tight, back-of-a-length bowling, and gaining inconsistent bounce with a wobbling seam, he now has the tournament's best figures of 5 for 31. They were his own best returns not just in internationals, but in his entire professional career. So quickly did Afghanistan's top order unravel, nosediving from 66 for 0 in the 11th over, to 70 for 4 in the 15th as Neesham swung the match decisively in New Zealand's favour in the space of eight deliveries.
"The wicket suited him a little bit," captain Kane Williamson said. "It suited guys that come in and hit the deck a little bit. He got the ball a little earlier than he has because the pitch had that extra bounce in it. Jimmy, when he's bowling well, can get that pace out of a surface. The bowlers complemented each other nicely."
All this, New Zealand have done so far, while also gently drawing attention to one of their other cricket flexes - that they are the cuddliest, humblest, nice guyest team on the planet. When Rashid Khan took a ball to the helmet grille during Afghanistan's innings, Williamson was forward in a flash - not to celebrate the wicket (the ball had been deflected into the stumps), but to check on a visibly shaken Rashid. Earlier, Colin Munro was seen tying batsman Hashmatullah Shahidi's shoelace. Such is the earnestness with which this New Zealand team upholds this reputation, that Shahidi has probably never had a shoelace knotted so artfully.
New Zealand now have India to play next at Trent Bridge - by far their toughest assignment yet. But it's a challenge they can face knowing that a loss there will not mean death to their campaign. Compare their plight to that of South Africa, for example. Having lost three of three, Faf du Plessis' outfit, are in the foetal position, on the couch, crying and eating ice cream from the tub as they try to console themselves about the messy breakup with AB de Villiers, amongst other things.
New Zealand, meanwhile, are basically a gym selfie in cricket team form. #blessed # hardworkpaysoff.