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From Sparkling to Faltering, Kiwi Campaign Teetering on Brink

Forget the silhouetted stallions stalking cricket’s most coveted cup, it turns out New Zealand put the cart before the horse at this tournament by starting with five straight wins and ending their group stage with three successive defeats.

Firdose Moonda |July 5, 2019, 10:06 AM IST
From Sparkling to Faltering, Kiwi Campaign Teetering on Brink

Forget the silhouetted stallions stalking cricket’s most coveted cup, it turns out New Zealand put the cart before the horse at this tournament by starting with five straight wins and ending their group stage with three successive defeats. They will more than likely still qualify for the final four but will enter as underdogs and their change in species speaks to a campaign that has unravelled when it matters most.

So what’s gone wrong?

The short answer is batting. The long answer is everything besides Kane Williamson, though if you look hard enough you will find scraps of criticism over conservative captaincy, especially as New Zealand have lacked the innovative impetus they developed under Brendon McCullum. They’ve proceeded almost pedestrian-like against obviously weaker opposition and been swallowed whole by the big boys, showing little of the spunk of 2015 when they rightly claimed to be having the time of the lives.

This time, New Zealand have not captured hearts and minds, in the same way, perhaps understandably so given the distance from home and the passing of the “darlings,” tag to Bangladesh, perhaps not, given their reputation for magicking wins from nothing under McCullum. Williamson does not have McCullum’s charisma but his dry humour and genuine manner commands deep respect. There’s not a player around who doesn’t have a good word to say about Williamson, least of all those in his own camp. On the eve of the England match, Ross Taylor defended Williamson as “world-class,” and said the rest of the line-up could help their skipper out by scoring some runs.

Experienced campaigners Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson then steadied the ship adding 160 runs for the third wicket. (AFP)

So far, Taylor is the only batsman who has consistently walked his own talk. He was involved in match-winning partnerships with Williamson in three of New Zealand’s four victories, against Bangladesh, Afghanistan and West Indies. He is also the only New Zealand batsman other than Williamson in the top 20 at this event. England have six batsmen on that list, Australia has three and though India also only have two, one of them is Rohit Sharma, who has double the number of centuries as anyone else.

The rest of New Zealand’s batting simply hasn’t shown up often enough. Colin de Grandhomme helped Williamson steer New Zealand home against South Africa and Jimmy Neesham had one fighting knock against Pakistan but big partnerships have been scarce.

The only stand of significance that did not involve Williamson or Taylor was the unbroken 137 between Martin Guptill and Colin Munro in their opener against Sri Lanka. But the opening partnership has only made it into double-digits twice since then, even after Colin Munro was dropped for Henry Nicholls, and the problem is not purely on the other end of Martin Guptill. The senior opener’s 73* against Sri Lanka is now a distant memory against two ducks and two single-figure scores and needs to do more than that to ease the burden on Williamson and Taylor.

Perhaps the best thing that happened to New Zealand in their defeat was that Tom Latham brought up his highest score of the World Cup to date and his first of more than 14 runs. New Zealand’s middle-order was identified early on, by Lungi Ngidi, as their weak spot, and though South Africa don’t have much to say for themselves at this event, they were right in that department. They were the first to exploit that and had New Zealand 80 for 4 in chase of 242. Other oppositions have taken that further. New Zealand were 83 for 5 against Pakistan and 69 for 4 against England and have shown themselves to have too much of a soft underbelly.

That said, New Zealand’s attack has been one of the highlights of the tournament with Trent Boult and Colin de Grandhomme maintaining economy rates of under 4.70 runs an over, Matt Henry going at under five and Lockie Ferguson snarling underneath the best moustache of the competition to land among its top three wicket-takers. More’s the pity that he was was ruled out of the England match with a hamstring strain, denying him the opportunity to go head-to-head with the other man on 17 scalps, Jofra Archer but providing New Zealand with the opportunity to try and force history into repeating itself.

Lockie Ferguson runs in to bowl. (Twitter/ cricket world cup)

In Ferguson’s injury-enforced absence, Tim Southee, who has not bowled competitively in almost five weeks since the warm-up matches because of a calf injury made the XI, hoping to repeat his heroics of four years ago or come close. In 2015, Southee’s 7 for 33 scythed through England, who were bowled out for 123. New Zealand cantered to victory in 12.2 overs.

But that was the time of their lives, on home turf, when it seemed winning would come as a result of simply having fun. Now, it’s completely different.

The World Cup field has got smaller in size but the big three seem to have only got bigger. India, Australia and even England (despite losing to Pakistan and Sri Lanka) can all get on their high horses about the standard of cricket they have played at this tournament. They have dominated the field to the point where the idea of the top team going straight through the final and a playoff between the second and third-placed team seems an appealing way to end a World Cup that has been too predictable for most people’s liking.

But someone has to play in the semi-finals and it’s hardly surprising that someone is New Zealand. They’ve been in seven of 11 and all of the last three tournament semi-finals. Just when it seemed they would be forever condemned to the final four, in 2015, they progressed to their first final and then the occasion overawed them.

In the four years since New Zealand have matured from the wide-eyed runners-up to a team known for being witty (remember the jokes about a quiz night after the week which included the India washout?) and wily under Williamson. It has got to the point where they will need more than that to win and they only have a week to wangle a way.

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Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 5046 120
2 Australia 4320 108
3 England 5253 105
4 New Zealand 3449 105
5 South Africa 3537 98
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Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6967 124
2 India 7939 118
3 New Zealand 5347 116
4 South Africa 5442 111
5 Australia 5854 110
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Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 8926 270
2 Australia 6986 269
3 England 6095 265
4 India 12141 264
5 South Africa 5248 262
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