The mystery is not so much why New Zealand don't do better in international cricket, but why they manage to do so much at all. In a country obsessed with rugby, where cricketers are plain not recognised on the streets, forget about being famous, with a pool of first-class cricketers to choose from that is less than some zonal teams in India, the manner in which they repeatedly make the semifinals of international events is commendable in the extreme.
This is not even a case like Jamaica in sprinting, or Pakistan and squash players, where amazing individuals emerge despite the system. It is not as though New Zealand teams have freakish unorthodox talents who have taken the world by storm. There is something about their attitude, plucky, dogged, determined and ever willing to be the underdog that causes them to constantly overcome better teams.
Apart from the Champions Trophy in 2000, then called the ICC KnockOut, New Zealand have never won a major title. But they seldom fail to make the last four. “I suppose it's about time we made a final then,” Daniel Vettori, their cerebral and hardworking captain, said on Tuesday night, barely stifling a chuckle.
“I am not sure what it is,” he said, unable to put in words why New Zealand do so well, so often, in the preliminary stages of multi-team tournaments. “I suppose it is the determination within the group when we come to these tournaments. It is an expectation of us as a one-day team to get to the knockout stage, and we have been a pretty good one-day team over the years. That's about people's expectations, it's now up to us to deliver a little bit more than that.”
While teams travelling to New Zealand, especially those from the subcontinent, struggle to come to terms with the uniquely challenging conditions, this Kiwi unit has adapted better to varying conditions in South Africa than any other team. That they have done so while missing key players is all the more remarkable. “We have lost three pretty key players in Jesse Ryder (groin), Jacob Oram (hamstring) and Daryl Tuffey (broken hand),” Vettori said. “For the group to come together and still be able to put together a performance like that is the most satisfying thing. We know that when we get to the semifinals, it could be anyone's day. We are just hoping it is ours.”
If it is, you can't grudge them their success.