Cricket - Unheralded and unrewarded, a legacy-defining test awaits New Zealand


FILE PHOTO: Cricket - Second Test - England v New Zealand - Edgbaston Stadium, Birmingham, Britain - June 13, 2021 New Zealand's Tom Latham celebrates winning the series with the trophy and teammates Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra/File photo

(Reuters) - New Zealand have a long history of producing world class cricketers and making it to major tournament finals, and the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) decider against India presents another opportunity for them to finally reign supreme.

In a cricket landscape where the 'Big Three' of India, England and Australia dominate the game's finances, governance and market share, New Zealand's impressive performances are all too often overlooked.

The 'Black Caps', who on Sunday won the second test against England to claim a 1-0 series victory and currently top the test and one-day international rankings, fell agonisingly short of glory at the last two editions of the 50-overs World Cup.

Brendon McCullum's team lost to a clinical Australia in the 2015 final but defeat in the decider four years later was even tougher to swallow.

Kane Williamson and his side were left gutted as England were crowned champions via a controversial boundary-count rule after the final at Lord's remained tied even after a Super Over.

Playing the WTC decider at Southampton, which has an integrated quarantine facility, has spared New Zealand the emotional burden of playing another final at cricket's spiritual home.

NO HANGOVERS

Vice-captain Tom Latham, who experienced that 2019 final defeat, said New Zealand's strong team culture would hold them in good stead against India.

"For us, it's (about) not worrying too much about what happened at that final, and I guess the good thing is it's been moved away from Lord's, so there's no hangovers from that," the 29-year-old told Reuters.

"Rather than worrying too much about results, it's about trying to stick to a brand of cricket that we want to be proud of playing. I guess that's something that came out in the 2015 World Cup and it's flowed on from there."

Since the start of 2015, batsmen like Latham and stalwart Ross Taylor have been prolific but captain Williamson has been elite -- his tally of 9,899 international runs eclipsed only by India's Virat Kohli and England's Joe Root.

Among wicket-takers across all formats in that period, Rotorua-born seamer Trent Boult (376) leads all comers and his new-ball partner Tim Southee (312) ranks fifth.

But Latham does not take it for granted that his side, who defeated India in two home tests last year, have a definitive edge in the upcoming red-ball final at Southampton's Rose Bowl.

"It's a neutral venue, which makes it even for both sides," he said.

"We've got some world class bowlers and so do they. Especially with the Dukes ball where it swings around a little bit more, they certainly pose a lot of threats."

As a brand new event, only time will tell where the WTC will sit among cricket's major trophies -- but in high-stakes finals, cricket folklore is written in pivotal moments.

If the cards fall in New Zealand's favour, greatness might just be a moment away.

(Reporting by Joel Dubber in Perth; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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