Winning for Good

Mark Stephens on the New Zealand cricket team's success - and how they play with humility, dignity, respect, and civility.

“Living proof that sometimes, just sometimes, nice guys do finish first.”

So remarked one commentator when New Zealand defeated India in the recent World Test Championship. For our many readers who have no interest in sport, let me catch you up. New Zealand is now the best cricket team in the world. Over the last decade, the Black Caps (their nickname) have deliberately cultivated a brand of play which stresses humility, respect, dignity, and civility.

For some reason, people want to brand this as “nice.” Now “nice” is a wonderful word, particularly when you are drinking tea, or referring to someone’s poodle. But New Zealand cricket isn’t nice. On the contrary, they possess some of the most powerful, aggressive cricketers I’ve ever seen. Indeed, their newest bowling superstar, Kyle Jamieson, looks like Goliath coming off a long run.

No, what sets New Zealand apart is they do not mistake power for arrogance; they do not confuse victory with disrespect. They can be aggressive and humble. They can be gentle and ambitious. The American writer Andy Crouch points out that we often live out of a framework of false dichotomies. We have to be strong or weak, soft or hard, compassionate or driven. As if only one side of the pole will do. But as Crouch points out, true human flourishing sometimes comes from holding together things we too hastily hold apart.

We often lament the deforming influence of power, fame, and ability. Even more reason, then, to celebrate those examples when people manage to hold it all together in beautiful combination. The Black Caps aren’t nice. They’re good – in all senses of the word.