The blackcaps do two things well. They win most games of cricket that they are expected to win, and when they lose, they make sure they do not lose by massive margins. This is a tried and tested formula. The game against South Africa was an exception to the rule. This template always keeps them in the hunt for quarterfinal, semifinal and other qualification scenarios. The win against Sri Lanka is yet another great example of this formula.
If there was ever a perfect script for New Zealand to make sure they seal their place in the semi final it would have looked like this;
Win the toss & bowl first –
Wickets with the new ball in the power play by Boult & Southee –
Santner to choke the runs in the middle and pick up a couple of wickets –
Ferguson to use the short ball to good effect and pick wickets in the middle –
Dismiss the opposition cheaply –
Get off to a flier while chasing –
Get to the target in less than 25 overs –
Improve their net run rate –
Set Pakistan an impossible qualification target –
For the last few days all eyes were on the weather in Bengaluru, but the rain gods smiled on New Zealand, and we didn’t have a drop of rain all day at the Chinnaswamy stadium.
Trent Boult, the experienced professional that he is, delivered with the new ball when it mattered most. Southee found the edge of Kusal Perera’s bat before he had scored a run, but Latham failed to hold on to a regulation chance. Riding his luck Perera launched a ferocious counterattack but his high-risk approach was always going to be short lived. A fit again Lockie Ferguson ran in hard, and his pace and length made a huge difference in the middle overs.
For a long time now, Mitchell Santner has been New Zealand’s safe deposit vault. Every time he has the ball in hand you know what you are going to get. Two things stand out for me about Santner in this World Cup. He is putting more revs on the ball which helps it drift, drop, and turn. The second is his subtle change of pace according to the surface which never lets the batter settle against him. Santner is now the full package as far as a white ball finger spinner is concerned; accurate, miserly, and effective on all surfaces.
The most pleasing aspect for me were New Zealand’s innovative field placements. We saw perfectly placed slips, men under the lid in front and behind the batter and boundary riders who were placed 3/4ths of the way. I know its easier to innovate when you are on top, but everything was aimed at picking up wickets which is the key in any form of cricket. Here is a small example. At 14.3 Angelo Matthews edges one, but Latham spills a tough chance. Santner requests a slip and Williamson approves. The question on everybody’s mind was – has the horse bolted? But it hadn’t, as at 16.4 and 18.3 Santner got turn and bounce to find two more edges which Daryl Mitchell happily pouched. The power of positive field placements was on full display.
Small targets can sometimes be tricky. The best way is to be aggressive and keep the score board moving. Conway and Rachin started in typical fashion and Daryl Mitchell put the finishing touches. Although the blackcaps lost 5 wickets in getting to 172, they were always in control.
Rachin’s dream run in this World Cup continues. He has now scored the most runs by a blackcap at a single World Cup and surpassed Sachin Tendulkar’s record of the most runs scored at the single World Cup by any batter aged 25 or under. It is the stuff that fairytales are made of. The potential semifinal against India will be the biggest game of cricket that Rachin has ever played in his life. Having had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with him in the last few weeks I know he will be up for the challenge.
With this massive win the blackcaps have done everything they could to all but seal their spot in the semifinal and set up a repeat of the 2019 semi. Statistically Pakistan is still in with a chance, but their equation is next to impossible. Their best chance is to bat first and try to beat England by about 287 runs i.e., score 400 and dismiss England for less than 113. If they bat second, the equation is even more difficult.
Sri Lanka’s poor show in this World Cup shouldn’t surprise us. Remember they had to play a qualifying tournament to be eligible to play with the big boys. Several issues have plagued Sri Lanka cricket for a long time. Political interference in the administration of the game, a broken and fragmented domestic system, the lack of hunger and discipline amongst the new generation of players and inconsistency in performance and selection are some of the most well-known ones. I don’t know what the solution to their problems is but what I do know is that they just need to look at the spirit and game awareness shown by their number 9, 10 and 11 with the bat yesterday and learn something from it.
So, there we have it. Yet another knockout match between India and New Zealand. An in form Indian team in Mumbai with 31000 vociferous fans cheering them on won’t be an easy task at all. But history tells us that the Blackcaps love to spoil India’s party. Once again, I will be asked where my loyalties lie and once again, I will say that blood is thicker than any passport or permanent residency in the world. A super over win for India is my wish (You can piss off with that: Ed). If that happens, I can guarantee that it will be a match for the ages.
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