New Zealand's nice guys get 2nd shot at World Cup title
LONDON (AP) — New Zealand's cricketers sat in a circle on the outfield at Lord's. Some picked at the grass, one of them leaned back so far he was basically lying down.
They were in the middle of a practice session at the home of cricket, one day out from playing in the World Cup final against England — the biggest, most pressure-filled day of their careers — but you'd never really have known.
The Black Caps are the nice guys of world cricket. Brad Haddin, the former Australia wicketkeeper, said they were so nice that it made him and his teammates "uncomfortable" before the 2015 World Cup final, during which Haddin sledged a number of New Zealanders and gave them brutal send-offs.
Nothing has changed four years on. Now captained by Kane Williamson following the retirement of Brendon McCullum, the New Zealanders remain humble, understated, laid-back.
Take Williamson on Saturday, for example. He couldn't have been more relaxed while undertaking his pre-final media duties, as he smiled and cracked some jokes.
Asked about being underdogs, Williamson responded: "Whatever dog we are, it's just important that we focus on the cricket that we want to play. We have seen over the years that anybody can beat anybody regardless of breed of dog."
So, will the Kiwis be party-poopers against the tournament host?
"Party-poopers?" he said. "You talking about dogs again, hey?"
Williamson, typically, wasn't getting over-excited about the size of the occasion he'll be walking out to on Sunday.
"At the end of the day, it is still a cricket match," he answered, saying it was all about "keeping your feet on the ground."
"I guess," he added, finally letting himself go, "with the added attention of a World Cup final means it's perhaps a bit more special than another day."
Not that Williamson isn't fiercely competitive and a winner.
He's faced some extremely tough situations this World Cup, as a captain and batsman, mainly because of the abject form of New Zealand's openers. Coming in at No. 3, Williamson has been a fire-fighter as much as a strokemaker, yet is still averaging 91.33.
How does he stay so calm in such a cauldron in the middle?
"You just constantly are having so many different experiences," he said, "there are so many uncontrollables that you need to try and deal with and that is a real challenge at times.
"It's forever learning, learning about the game and about yourself and different emotions that you can feel. But as a group, for us, it is important that we are level and ... keep peeling it back to what is important."
So impressed is England captain Eoin Morgan with New Zealand's happy-go-lucky approach to cricket that his team's rebuild since a humiliating group-stage exit at the 2015 World Cup has been modeled on the Black Caps.
Morgan is close friends with McCullum and they have spoken a lot during England's development into a massive force in the white-ball game.
"You don't tend to just change the way you play," said Williamson, who was vice captain under McCullum, "you also need to work with the group that you have and try and make adjustments accordingly to get the best out of the personnel that you have at the time.
"That's forever changing, but they (England) certainly made some strong changes really quickly and they've been playing really good white-ball cricket for a long time."
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80