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Black Caps continue to get up off the canvas


Kane Williamson of the Black Caps makes his ground to win the first cricket test against Sri Lanka, Christchurch, 2023.

Kane Williamson makes his ground to win first test against Sri Lanka

There’s a bit of Rocky Balboa in this Black Caps team.

They may be aging, and a little out of shape. They may be taking repeated body blows, battered and bruised and laid out on the canvas. But they won’t let that bell ring.

Some how, time and again, this Black Caps team finds a way to beat the eight-count, to stand tall after suffering serious punishment, surviving to see home a victory.

This past fortnight has summed up the Black Caps as a team, and their players have put in some prototypical performances that sum up the careers they’ve had.

Two weeks after a mind-boggling one-run win over England at the Basin Reserve in Wellington – one of the greatest games in Test match history – New Zealand found themselves in the midst of another collosal encounter.

Set 285 to win, rain looked set to spoil a thrilling final day, but it only added to the tension and drama that unfolded at Hagley Oval – a two-wicket win secured on the final ball of the match.

Kane Williamson was the catalyst. His faultless 121 from 194 balls saw him toil through the difficulty of a newer ball on an aging wicket, before bringing the Black Caps home.

His first 50 runs came from 120 balls, such was the difficulty early on. Sri Lanka’s bowlers were on song, but couldn’t find a way through the impenetrable former captain. His next 71 runs came from 74 balls, pushing the pace with the aid of Daryl Mitchell (81).

The innings was pure Kane Williamson.

The grit and determination while the going was tough. The calm and assurance as the game wore on, and victory seemed so far away. The modesty and reluctance of the man, giving a small wave after bringing up a 27th test century before appearing to be convinced to remove his helmet and salute the crowd. And then the focus, the intensity, the relentlessness to close things out.

He is New Zealand’s greatest batter. He may be New Zealand’s greatest cricketer. And this test reaffirmed all the qualities he has brought to the Black Caps over a glittering career.

And then there is Neil Wagner.

Neil Wagner and Kane Williamson of the Black Caps celebrate winning the first cricket test against Sri Lanka, Christchurch, 2023.

Kane Williamson and Neil Wagner walk from the field

I’m not entirely convinced Neil Wagner is human.

During the second innings, Wagner had to leave the field after the double whammy of a torn hamstring and a bulging disc in his back.

New Zealand Cricket estimate he’ll be out for six weeks, needing time for his back to settle down, and his hamstring to repair itself.

But blow me down, with the match on the line and wickets falling opposite Kane Williamson, there was Neil Wagner bouncing up and down in his helmet and pads, preparing to head out for a bat.

When the eighth wicket fell, there was Neil Wagner, defying the realities of life by running out onto the field as if a torn hamstring and a bulging disc twas but a flesh wound.

And there was Neil Wagner, sprinting from the non-strikers end and diving full stretch into the crease after the final ball was bowled, helping secure another win for the ages.

For so long, whenever New Zealand has had success in the Test arena, Wagner has been front and centre.

He’s bowled the team to victory on lifeless wickets, and bowled the team to victory on broken toes. Last month he bowled the team to victory despite rotten form and in the face of a Bazball revolution.

The question was rightly asked online, why didn’t a fully fit Blair Tickner come out and run that winning single? But to me, the answer is simple.

Even if Hercules has an injury, he’s still a demigod.

Most demigods get statues, and I think Neil Wagner has earned his.

There’s a chance this was his last test match, and there wouldn’t be a more fitting way for it to happen, doing what he’s always done and leading this aging Black Caps group on one helluva sporting swansong.

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