Late last year, or nearly a week ago, former Australian cricket captain, Steve Smith was named test player of the decade by the ICC (International Cricket Council). Now, don’t get me wrong, Smith is a fantastic cricketer, with an incredible record of amassing a huge amounts of runs in a usually careful and considered manner. But there is a massive disconnect between what cricket is meant to stand for and what Smith did when captain of the Australian team that led to a suspension from all forms of the game for himself, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft.
Ball tampering is one of the ways that fielding teams can manipulate the ball to suit their purposes and it is nothing more than cheating. Smith knowingly went along with a plan formulated by other players, and while his subsequent contrition and acceptance of his punishment was a big step toward redemption, it should in no way have put him in consideration for such as prestigious award as test player of the previous ten years.
Cricket is a funny game and it’s fantastic viewing at every level – showing off the various skills of individual players with the bat, ball, gloves, or in the field. It’s a team game where the individual shines but the best teams play as a team. That brings me to the current crop of Kiwi players lead by possibly one of our best batsmen and captains of all time – Kane Williamson – in my opinion, our greatest captain of all time. But first, a personal backstory.
I have been an on and off fanatic of the game since I first saw the New Zealand team play India at Lancaster Park in the 1970s. I would have barely been in my teens but I was in love with the game from the moment I took my seat and heard the sound of bat on ball and the chants that rang around the ground for our premier bowler of the day, Richard Hadlee.
Watching a game was only part of the experience – back then you could leave the ground whenever you wished and go across the road to the dairy that did a roaring trade in Stevenson’s mince pies. Better still, in breaks of play the stewards would rope off the wicket but the rest of the ground was fair game to any kids who wanted to have a bit of a game amongst their mates. I have no doubt that most of us secretly hoped that we were being watched by scouts, or people of importance, who would see our talent and mark us down for future greatness.
That first test was just the beginning for me and with the advent of day/night games broadcast live from Australia I began what would become tens of thousands of hours watching the best cricketers in the world, either live at a ground, or live on TV. In truth the thing that soured it all for me was the various betting scandals that broke in the late 1990s and the following decades. I began to doubt the players and what they were doing, and once I lost that trust, I found it hard to give the game the same level of attention as I had since I was 11. The Australian ball tampering fiasco in 2018 also made a dent in that trust, and to be fair – some of the things that a few former New Zealand cricketing greats were accused of as well.
Which brings me back to Williamson. There have been many great New Zealand cricket captains in my lifetime – and many before. They all have different attributes and divergent records and achievements but for me Williamson is supreme – for two reasons. He is an incredible batsman, with an array of skills and the temperament to assemble a total slowly or put his foot down and amass runs quickly – depending on what is required. He is a captain that leads by example and from the front and it is obvious that the other ten players on the field play for him and to his plan. He is an incredible exponent of the quiet, unassuming yet fiercely determined leader who inspires and lifts others to do better.
Postnote. As I post this New Zealand has beaten the visiting Pakistan team in a series after doing the same against the West Indies last month. More incredibly they have become the number one test playing team for the first time in their history. What a fantastic achievement that is.