Every nation has a variation on the capping ceremony before a Test match and they are always special. Mostly, it happens twice – the night before, when the captain hands the cap over, and then again on the field of play half an hour before the start of play when a ceremonial figure, usually a former ‘great’, hands the cap over officially.
They are both moments that players never forget, cherished as much as the first 50 or the first wicket. The cap, as every international cricketer will tell you, is something that can never, ever be taken away from you. Often the fulfillment of a dream which started in pre-teen years, the cap is tangible proof of achievement, of reaching the highest level. But not, obviously, of performing there.
If the capping ‘ceremony’ is so special, why limit it to one? Every appearance for your country is special, and some may be even more special that the first. So why not have your very own, unique and highly prized Test cap presented to you in a mini ceremony before every Test?
That’s exactly what the Black Caps do.
The management group leave no stone unturned to find someone appropriate to re-present the caps to the established players and, occasionally, to hand over a new one to the debutant. They deliver a five-minute talk and then redeliver the precious caps to their owners. Once, in deepest Bangladesh, they found a Kiwi doctor doing extraordinary work in the most deprived areas. His talk to the team moved them to tears.
Team manager Mike Sandle reads out the names and precious numbers of the cap recipients on the night before the Test and they walk forward to accept, again, the most precious symbol of their achievement. Once the caps are back on their heads, the entire squad – players and management – embrace and share a special word of encouragement. There is little need these days to emphasise, or re-emphasise, that the team comes before the individual.
The caps of players like Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill and Tim Southee were clearly much weather-beaten but their owners received them back again with a reverence almost certainly identical to the first time. There is a great deal of nonsense written and spoken about ‘team spirit’. And there is also the evidence of your own eyes.
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