A team fashioned in Williamson's spirit - not McCullum's image

Kane Williamson leads his 'no-stress' boys out to the middle Getty Images

Before this degenerates into full-on, undignified fawning (and full disclosure: that is where this is headed) one big caveat: New Zealand were not always so adorable. Their 2011 quarter-final against South Africa - a game in which several present players appeared - was as vicious as any in the genre, even substitute fielder Kyle Mills stopping by in his fluoro 12th-man vest to stick verbal shivs into South Africa batsmen. Before that, Stephen Fleming's lengthy reign featured series so nasty, some New Zealand players were essentially flamethrowers in cricket whites.

There is a tendency to view the current team's pleasantness as an inevitable manifestation of a fundamental Kiwi benevolence, but this is glib. New Zealand's transformation into Nice Guys (TM) was essentially a marketing move, cooked up by Brendon McCullum and Mike Hesson, during a disastrous tour of South Africa. Coming to realise the broken relationship with fans that needed repairing, they embarked on a comprehensive charm offensive - McCullum at the head, reeling off winning lines in interviews and press conferences, week after week. We all lapped it up, of course, forgetting what had come before.

Four years after McCullum's side dazzled us during that sublime run to the final, Kane Williamson is at the helm, and New Zealand are no longer tactically hyper-aggressive, but there is no cuddlier outfit at this World Cup. Bless England for pretending to try, but no one comes close.

And yet, this is not McCullum-brand goodness. Where in those years of transformation, McCullum set about reconstructing his own public image, going from the guy who conspired to claim the captaincy from Ross Taylor, to one of the sport's most beloved statesmen, Williamson has never been anything other than this; the bat-raise at the completion of his first hundred in Tests - the format he adores, and the one he'd always dreamed of playing - so measured it was almost shy. This was on Test debut in Ahmedabad, way back in 2010.

He is gentle, but that does not mean he is timid. Not a damn chance. Few batsmen bear their team through tougher situations. Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Steven Smith may match him, but no one is more adaptable. Seaming pitches in England? He has tamed them. Dustbowls in Sri Lanka? He defuses those. The bounce at the Gabba? Yes, sir. If the required rate climbs, he hits out. If his team is suddenly nine down chasing a small total, his straight six wins the match. Kohli thrives when oppositions come hard at him. Williamson is a granite wall; simply indifferent. Oppositions barely even bother sledging him any more, so renowned is his ability to absorb pressure in all its forms.

To suggest that Williamson has built a team in his image seems off. It's more like like-minded teammates have collected around him. Or at least, he has inspired this generation to be as he is: themselves. During this tournament, James Neesham has conceded that during his years out of the New Zealand side, he couldn't help but begrudge the national team its success - a strikingly honest admission for a modern-day athlete of any description. In the years before, Taylor had spoken about how he had not paid attention to a growth in his eye that was preventing him from picking wristspinners out of the hand, which is a pretty serious professional oversight.

And yet, it is not that they are just at peace with their own flaws, or maybe it is because they are, but no team has played the game with greater uncomplicated delight at this World Cup. No team, for a second World Cup in a row, has been as lovable.

New Zealand are a side whose spearhead Trent Boult takes an outstanding World Cup hat-trick only for his teammates to celebrate with more fervour. Who win an exceedingly tight match against West Indies, but before they form a whooping huddle as most teams do, go first to the valiant opposition batsman who has fallen only inches short.

They are a side whose purveyor of extreme pace, Lockie Ferguson, roughs great batsmen up with bouncers without so much as a follow-up glare, delivers all-time stumps-exploding yorkers (like the one to Faf du Plessis) without having to snarl, wears an attempt at a '80s fast-bowler moustache as a self-deprecating gag, and who generally goes about the most physically demanding profession in cricket with only out-and-out joy in his work. In this tournament, he, along with Jasprit Bumrah, have belied a cricketing maxim that has been held for generations: that to excel at bowling furious pace, you must necessarily burn with rage. That opposition batsmen must often be singed by that inferno.

When Australia were forced to rethink team culture in the wake of the sandpaper saga, there were suggestions that perhaps they could adopt a little of New Zealand's qualities. Some former Australia players were repulsed. "I don't think we want to play like the Kiwis, which I heard someone say," was Shane Warne's reaction. "I mean, come on! The Kiwis? No, thank you." Forgive us Warnie, but this only endears New Zealand to us even more. As a bonus, their team don't embarrass themselves almost every time they play Tests in Asia.

New Zealand are almost certain to make the semi-final, but even if they lose to England and somehow don't, they have been one of the best things about this tournament. They are a reminder that men's sport need not be an exercise in berserker machismo. That elite athletes need not be so overfull of testosterone it is practically squirting out of their every orifice. That kindness is not weakness. That in restraint, there is profound inner strength.

They have done all this not because they are trying to win you over. This time, this is just who they are.