A two-year agony of heartbreak at Lord's and many other narrow escapes must have crossed Kane Williamson's mind as he held aloft the World Test Championship Trophy on Wednesday. A sixth-day drama in the marquee clash was dampened down by Williamson and Ross Taylor's 94-run stand for the third wicket as the "underdogs" and "good guys" finally laid their hands on an ICC trophy.
The showpiece Test was pushed to the reserve day, with most fans predicting a draw or the Indian batsmen pulling a rabbit out of their hat at Hampshire Bowl. The sun, however, smiled down on Williamson as the Kiwis got past the fourth-innings target of 139 with eight wickets to spare. An even-tempered Williamson was on cloud nine, with a smile that stretched ear to ear as Taylor hit the winning boundary.
Williamson will go down in history as one of New Zealand's finest leaders. There are no two ways about it. "Certainly is a very special feeling. A couple of close ones and then to get one.
"We've been involved in a couple of finals previously, and I suppose the first one  was one-sided, the second one was pretty interesting, and this feeling is a bit different to those, which is great. I know the guys will celebrate that," said Williamson as New Zealand finally got past the line.
Rain and bad light played spoilsport for most of the final but there were no "lucky" deflections off the bat or "scrappy" boundary count rule to ruin New Zealand's party. Had Rishabh Pant or Mohammed Shami doled out a magical performance on the reserve day or Cheteshwar Pujara not botched up Taylor's catch, the Kiwis perhaps would have had a hard time in taking off the "runners-up" tag.
Ex-skipper Brendon McCullum, who played a pivotal role in shaping up New Zealand cricket, also feared that his side would elude a defeat in the titular clash. "To do it in the purest form of the game is just something quite magnificent. I'm not sure it's really sunk in just yet, to be honest," a thrilled McCullum, like many other New Zealand supports, told 'SEN Radio'.
Just about two years back, a Martin Guptill throw had "deflected" off Ben Stokes' to wipe out New Zealand's chances to lift the 2019 ODI World Cup. As the English all-rounder dived to make it into the crease, the ball raced to the boundary and the umpires awarded England six runs in total. England, the host nation, went on to win the encounter on boundary count the Super Over theatrics ended in a tie.
Williamson's men, however, showed no signs of buckling under the pressure as clinched the Mace. The win may not erase all memories of New Zealand faltering in knockout matches of ICC tournaments. The Test supremacy, however, will be the cherry on top of New Zealand's fortress in the traditional format of the game.
Minutes after the New Zealand dressing room in a roar of absolute jubilation, Taylor said that the winning feeling is yet to sink in. "Still sinking in but it's been a long way. Long journey over a couple of years. A lot of rain for a couple of days here, but I thought the way the team fought from Day One, and to be with Kane, who has been a fantastic leader for this team for a long time, to be out there in a pressure situation is something I wouldn't forget."
New Zealand's journey to Test supremacy
After a dodgy start in Sri Lanka and Australia, New Zealand the first team to book a place in the inaugural WTC Final. A six-wicket defeat against Sri Lanka which also featured a Williamson duck was the worst possible start for New Zealand. However, centurions Tom Latham (154) and BJ Watling (104*) staged a turnaround as the Kiwis levelled the two-Test series 1-1. They headed home with 60 points in their bag which later became 50 per cent of the points available to them.
In stark contrast to India, New Zealand endured a horror Australia tour in 2019-20, suffering a 3-0 drubbing Down Under. A potent Aussie squad comprising the likes of Marnus Labuschagne, David Warner, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon blunted New Zealand's chances of registering a single win in the three-Test rubber.
New Zealand got their mojo back at the start of 2020 as they registered a comprehensive 2-0 Test series win over India. With the WTC title, New Zealand also completed a hat-trick of Test victories against Kohli's men.
Ahead of the two-Test series in New Zealand, India had won all seven games. India, in fact, we're dealing with whitewashes. But an influencing bowling line-up comprising Tim Southee (4/49) and debutant Kyle Jamieson (4/39) to help New Zealand register a 10-wicket win in the first Test.
Jamieson also delivered in the second Test, plucking a five-wicket haul and sealing the Test rubber 2-0. New Zealand finished the series with 180 points, 50 per cent of what was available to them at that point.
The pandemic left an impact on the cricket calendar but New Zealand showed no signs of post-coronavirus world sluggishness. A convincing Test win against India was followed by a 2-0 win over West Indies. Williamson scored a massive 251 in the first Test, helping his side record a massive innings victory at Hamilton.
Williamson withdrew from the second Test due to the birth of his first child but Henry Nicholls filled the void and stepped up with a big century (174). Southee (5/32) and Jamieson (5/34) delivered again as New Zealand went on to register an innings and 12 runs victory.
The penultimate pitstop (before 1-0 series win against England) was against Pakistan and New Zealand continued their winning momentum, with Jamieson again beaming with the red ball. Williamson first took the center stage, scoring a century (129) and a double-century (238) in the first and second Test respectively.
Jamieson stepped up in the second Test as the towering pacer plucked 11 wickets (5/69, 6/48) to clinch the Player of the Match trophy. Almost six months later, the 6'8" lanky speedster also grabbed top honours in the WTC Final including the prized wicket of Virat Kohli in both innings.