New Zealand v Australia

Do nice guys always finish last?

What can you expect when one of the nicest teams in world cricket takes on one built on a legacy of aggression, snarling and on-field skirmishes? New Zealand transformed the way audiences viewed cricketers when they rose to Brendon McCullum’s calls to play the game in a manner that was both attacking and well-behaved.

Kane Williamson, the man taking forward McCullum’s world view, has ensured that even in the face of severe provocation, the focus remains on runs and wickets, with his mates not falling into the trap or responding with words. He might be in for a bit of a surprise in the latest Australia-New Zealand clash, for Australia’s players are embroiled in a fight with their cricket board that may leave them with no appetite to dish it out on the field.

The situation Australia’s cricketers find themselves in is a tricky one. Cricket Australia has done nothing to disabuse public of the notion that here is a bunch of highly paid cricketers being greedy for more. The players, who are taking a stand based on principle, for the well-being of players below the international level, have stayed united, but this does not mean they can take their eye off the business at hand on the field.

“Oh look, there’s always a little bit of chatter around it, but once you’re actually in the camp and playing cricket or training – as a player that is probably the last thing on your mind,” said Moises Henriques, an allrounder in the true sense of the word in his position as player and representative of the Australian Cricketers’ Association. “When you’re having breakfast or coffee you might chat about it, but definitely not at training. At the game, the only thing you’re worrying about is playing as good cricket as you can.”

While Henriques has a clearly defined role, being part of the executive committee of the ACA, he maintained that this deadlock was not about individual players.“Obviously we’re a part of the decision making process and the strategy of how we play it as players, but the ACA is just a representative agent of the players as a whole,” said Henriques. “So really, the decision gets made by the players and then the ACA acts on their behalf. It’s not like we are going to do anything that the players don’t want to do. It’s a collective agreement and we speak on behalf of all the players.”

Henriques also reminded Cricket Australia that a sticking to hard positions may be costly for both parties. “I think coming to an agreement would be the quickest way forward and that’s all we’ve got to worry about as players, hoping that the agreement gets made as quick as possible,” he said, leaving the door just a touch open for compromise. “Maybe CA might have to give a little bit in the end, we might have to give a little bit, who knows? But the players know that we need to get to an agreement. We want to play cricket. Guys want to play international cricket, state cricket. The players want the deal sorted and I’m sure CA do as well.”

On Thursday, Steve Smith, the Australian captain, said that the issue was not distracting his team from the task of taking on New Zealand. “No, it’s been good. The guys have been great. We know that the ACA’s handling everything back home,” said Smith. “And for us, our focus is on this tournament, and it needs to be, because we’re coming up against some good opposition. It’s a very cutthroat tournament. And you need to be switched on the whole time. So the boys are focused on that.”

That the two teams know each other inside out is a given, thanks to the number of times they have played each other in the recent past. In the last year alone, the two teams have met eight times in 50-over cricket, with the scales being even at four wins each. Williamson hoped that his team could find a way to spring a surprise, despite the familiarity with the opposition. “Yes, we have played each other a lot, and we are fairly familiar with each other. But teams are always trying to do something slightly different, I guess, plans to get on top of the opposition. So for us it’s trying to attack it as best we can. You come into these one-off clashes, they are very different, perhaps just being involved in a series,” said Williamson. “And you never know, there might be the odd curveball at times that people try just because there’s that sort of, that mindset of coming into a game.”

(This article first appeared on the Scroll website on June 2, 2017)