Friday, March 1, 2024

Agnew’s angle: Watling and Santner epitomise true grit

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Having completed their first double century and century respectively in the first cricket test against England at Tauranga’s Bay Oval on Sunday, BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner epitomised true grit.

It is that special quality that has enabled the Black Caps to perform beyond expectations on the world stage in a sport which has glorified the feats of Australia, India, the West Indies, England, Pakistan and South Africa over the years.

West Indies no longer have the feared pace bowling attack nor destructive batsmen like Viv Richards and Brian Lara they once did and South Africa’s form has diminished too.

Now with India, Australia and England regarded as the game’s heavyweights, New Zealand have punched well above their weight, finishing runner-up  in the last two ODI World Cups to Australia and England respectively.

Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner combine to add swing, seam and bounce to the pace attack and 150km per hour speedster Lockie Ferguson adds menace at ODI and T20 level.

Hard-hitting allrounder Colin de Grandhomme offers guile with his medium pace and although no spinner of Daniel Vettori’s class has emerged, Santner is being rewarded for tossing the ball up with his variable flight.

Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor are truly world class batsmen. The admirable Guptill was at ODI level and Henry Nicholls and Tom Latham have developed nicely.

Add the power play of Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham and de Grandhomme and the potential for fast scoring is there although all three can be a bit reckless.

Not so No 7 and 8 batsmen Watling and Santner, who showed with their remarkable 206 not out and unbeaten 105 on Sunday a maturity that bodes well for the future.

That astonishing innings and 65-run victory gave the Black Caps their seventh series triumph in an unbeaten run over 32 months and they have lost just one of 16 at home.

Up until now I had thought Ian Smith the best wicket keeper/batsman NZ has produced. But having taken his test average over 40 to become his country’s ninth most successful test batsman, Watling has surpassed him with the willow.

Watling has a happy habit of digging in and producing his best when his team most needs him. It’s a knack fellow South African-born Neil Wagner also possesses when asked to bowl.

Wagner was outstanding once more in taking five wickets for 44 runs before England’s second innings folded for 197. Left arm spinner Santner grabbed three for 53 but it was flying right hand catch of Ollie Pope off Wagner that will live longest in the memory.

Other nations can and do produce more glittering stars. But when you add the excellence of New Zealand’s fielding, a champion team can beat a team of champions, especially when it has a captain of Williamson’s superb temperament.

He and the swashbuckling Brendan McCullum are like chalk and cheese but very effective, as was Stephen Fleming before them.

Martin Crowe favourite Ross Taylor didn’t last long as skipper but, with Williamson, became the batting anchor and a major contributor to the team’s success.

Santner’s first test ton will hopefully be the first of many. A single handicap golfer, he’s capable of hitting boundaries with consummate ease and ensure the tail wags happily.

 Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer

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