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The lessons the All Blacks could learn from the Black Caps

By Hamish Bidwell
The players of New Zealand form a huddle at full-time following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Pool A match between France and New Zealand at Stade de France on September 08, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

I wrote last week about the All Blacks reconnecting with the public.

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That got me thinking about the Black Caps and another World Cup that’s on at the moment.

New Zealand has reached its fifth consecutive Cricket World Cup semifinal, where they lost to hosts India by 70.

Despite the defeat, the public is unlikely to round on the team and there are a few reasons for that.

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Cricket, for starters, doesn’t matter to folk here as much as rugby does and so defeats are more likely to be greeted by a shrug of the shoulders.

The Black Caps also have runs on the board. In the last eight years, they’ve made two Cricket World Cup finals, been world Twenty20 finalists and inaugural World Test Championship winners.

They’re astonishing achievements, given how unlevel the world cricket playing field is. England, Australia and India really should be contesting every final going and yet these plucky little Black Caps inevitably find a way to intervene.

But I reckon there are two reasons – which the All Blacks could learn from – which mean the New Zealand men’s cricket team invariably get a pass from sports fans.

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First, they largely play to their potential or even above it.

Playing to your potential doesn’t entitle you to success, but it definitely gives you a chance.

I’m not sure the last four years of All Black rugby has been characterised by individuals – or the collective – playing to its potential.

Whether that’s environment, coaching, mental toughness, I don’t know. But I think the difference between the two teams in that regard is striking.

Relatability is another thing the Black Caps have going for them.

Let’s take Trent Boult. Like many of his teammates, the majority of his income is not derived from representing New Zealand.

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He is a freelancer for hire, who’s not even on a New Zealand Cricket retainer.

Does he care less? Have his skills diminished? Is the team suffering for only being able to utilise his services on a part-time basis?

Doesn’t seem so.

New Zealand Cricket can’t compete with the wages players can earn elsewhere, so doesn’t attempt to. It sends players to tournaments, such as the Indian Premier League, with its blessing.

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I think there’s something in that for New Zealand Rugby to ponder.

But that relatability comes back to a couple of things.

When Brendon McCullum became Black Caps captain, he quickly realised the team were dicks whose fans were embarrassed by them.

He made the necessary cultural shift and has successfully taken that ethos to the IPL and now the England test team.

If you’re humble, likeable and try very hard, you’ll win more fans than you lose. You might even enjoy doing it so much that you play well too.

Boult’s arguably our highest-paid cricketer and yet it’s not uncommon to see him turn out in Tauranga club cricket for Otumoetai Cadets.

Small gestures like that connect you to the grassroots game and your community and engender a great fondness from everyone involved.

How many All Blacks do that or even Super Rugby players, for that matter?

Cricket’s Super Rugby equivalents regularly return from four-day, 50-over or Twenty20 duties and slot straight back into the Saturday club teams that first put them on the pathway.

Rugby and cricket have different physical demands but – again – how many All Blacks have any connection to their clubs, even in a spectating or coaching capacity? Are they part of their communities or actively isolating themselves from them?

There’s a lot of rugby can learn from the way the Black Caps are run, contracted and encouraged to behave. In return, the All Blacks might receive similarly-unconditional support, rather than the criticism that comes with every defeat or poor performance.

The Black Caps, to me, are the embodiment of what New Zealanders hope to see in themselves and want to see from their sports teams.

They truly do punch above their weight and find ways to make do with much less than world cricket’s heavyweights have.

There’s something admirably Kiwi about that.

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Comments

23 Comments
C
CO 221 days ago

Always excellent articles, although not a big fan of cricket Bidwell is right. A few years back I started up with a couple of mates and watched the blackcaps just lose an epic final against England.

They threw everything into it and were unlucky. The Allblacks did the same in the final of rugby world cup and really did themselves proud.

However they spent much of the cup cycle a hot mess and should've been a lot better.

They should've comfortably beaten the Boks and yes the TMO officiating was at times poor but they should've been better, around 10-15 percentage points better.

j
johnz 221 days ago

I don’t even know if the players are allowed to turn up for their clubs. Let’s not forget NZR has become very controlling of their prized assets and have tried to commercialise everything black for the promised riches from the international market, while alienating the home fans.

Add to that, Foster’s and Cane’s team seemed happiest and best when the World were against them - with their trusty media manager always in toe making sure the press don’t get too much candid content from the players. “Protecting them” no doubt. When you alienate yourself from the public you open yourself up to more criticism.

In saying that I’ve enjoyed the content NZR produced during the WC, it has been refreshing and far more relaxed & candid than the obviously controlled and over edited spin we saw produced prior to their foray into online media. The new content is fun and entertaining while we get a good glimpse into the players personalities. It looks like they are taking better advice in the media production department which is promising.

The danger is they hide this new style of content behind a paywall, which I presume will be the plan going forward, then some of the good work will be undone.

J
Jon 222 days ago

Haha another incredibly far off the mark article from Hamish.

You can bet NZC would have wanted more control (and results) out of how Boult lead up to tournament, and it only highlights how similar the humility of the two playing groups are how they both give back to the community.

Despite Hamish just trying to make it sound like there is something there when there is not, he makes a (without intending to) a similarity to how poorly each team is run at the top, despite the number of quality sportsmen the country can produce for each side. The lack of strategy employed by the Blackcaps in their 70 run loss is astounding.

How could they think they were going to catch India out with bouncers (and to a less extent all the full balls) on that wicket? They needed a smarter strategy, they save 40 runs in that game by not trying to get cheap wickets and suddenly it changes everything. Not to mention the non selection of one of your best finishers.

P
Pecos 222 days ago

No, we just love an overachieving underdog like the Black Caps. We don’t expect to win the big ones.

But you nailed it about potential. The ABs had been coached to mediocrity for the best part of 3 seasons before NZRFU intervened. And led by a skipper who missed half of the 46 tests under Foster & went off injured in some of the other 23.

I back Razor to squeeze every bit of potential out of his All Blacks squads.

H
Henry 222 days ago

Just weeks before playing for the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship, Ardie Savea was playing at Fullback for his club Oriental Rongotai.

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