10 years of no win in Australia, facing the hosts at their own den, New Zealand’s campaign perhaps had the toughest start possible. It isn’t a format that you normally associate them with being this successful really.
Even though New Zealand breezed past several favourites in 2021, the realistic expectations weren’t that they were going to humble and humiliate Australia, at least to kick start their tournament.
Nah, that was far from all the expectations. But somehow, the BlackCaps are making a habit of it. Making a habit of forcing people to eat their own words, to accept their win as ‘real’ and not lucky. From the first ball, Finn Allen set the precedent for the BlackCaps.
They are here for DOMINATION.
Throughout the next two hours, the hosts, the favourites and the defending champions were playing catch-up cricket in front of their faithful. New Zealand silenced the thousands at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), showing the world yet again what they are capable of. Now, at least take note.
But as the tournament progressed, the essence of New Zealand’s success in the past few years started growing in stature. Unlike other sides, it wasn’t a team full of superstars, it was a superstar team.
Get the difference?
Even then, there were some chinks for them going into their last Super 12 contest against Ireland. You know those levels where the final boss is just becoming stronger by the minute and you have to keep pushing at him to find a way? New Zealand are that final boss.
But how have they transformed themselves into that? Well, they have been doing it for years now but the transformation in Australia is profound.
Kane Williamson ticks the box
One of New Zealand’s great concerns in the past year was the form of their skipper Kane Williamson. Despite having the best batting unit in this year's competition, 711 runs in four innings, with a run-rate of 8.9, Williamson's form was dodgy.
It is fathomable why it was concerning, especially with the demands of the format. Heading into the clash against Ireland, the skipper had registered 23, 8 and 40, which isn’t too bad, right? That’s where context plays a huge role, Williamson’s strike-rate across all the three innings was perhaps what set the BlackCaps back - 100, 61.54 and 100.
In fact, Williamson had scored 491 runs off 475 balls, with a strike-rate of 103.37 and the red-flag of 40.63% dot balls. Across phases from 0-15, the right-hander had a strike-rate that oscillated between 87 to 113, which was a real concern.
"Kane's gold at three for us. He understands situations and I know he had a little bit of a tough day today. But with his experience, the ability to take a game deep and command the middle overs is crucial,” said Glenn Phillips, getting behind skipper Williamson.
Against Ireland, the BlackCaps skipper started in a similar manner, scoring just nine runs out of ten balls. But since then, he picked up pace, with strike-rates of 180, 160 and 360 in the balls that proceeded. A 35-ball 61, with five boundaries and three sixes, Williamson’s knock not just won him the Player of the Match award but also secured a bright future for the BlackCaps.
Kiwi spinners dance in tandem
Since the start of the Super 12 stage, it was fairly obvious that Sri Lanka were going to be heavily reliant on their spin-attack for wickets. But to see New Zealand on par with them is in itself astonishing. At the same time, it goes on to show how they have played a vital hand in the BlackCaps’ success thus far in the tournament.
Yet again, they were put under pressure by the Irish batters in their first overs respectively, with Santner conceding 13 runs while Sodhi gave away 16. But despite all the runs, skipper Williamson somewhere saw this as an opportunity for them to pick up wickets. At 68/0, with their backs against the wall, the spinners had no other choice but to stand up, at least in the eyes of their skipper.
And, they obliged with a very solid performance. What has been noteworthy throughout the tournament has been how the spin pair has remained fearless. Fearless in the sense, they have always changed the course of the encounter with two wickets in two overs, four in between them after six good overs of spin-bowling.
Expect them to continue with the spin twin, and don’t take them lightly, if you are the opposition.
Lockie Ferguson proves pace is still gold
New Zealand perhaps have one of the strongest bowling units with the new ball. Statistically too, they are the best unit in this year's competition, with 35 wickets. The challenge of facing the likes of Trent Boult and Tim Southee is pretty daunting. But now pair it up with the task of tackling someone who can bowl at 150 kmph with relative ease, you have a bowling unit that has almost no weakness.
Having said all of that, there was still an element of doubt over how Lockie Ferguson would perform in conditions where there wasn’t too much for the bowlers. In the four games thus far, he has picked up seven wickets but three of those wickets came in Friday (November 4) clash against Ireland.
His task, of being the middle-order enforcer, of tackling the onslaught in the middle-overs has been executed to perfection. Five of his seven wickets in the competition have been against middle-order batters (4,5 and 6) which goes on to show his valuable contribution in this setup.
While he has been on the costly side of affairs (8.1 ER), his role in the setup allows that much freedom. But what teams going against him have to keep in their mind is his ability to get more zip off the surface.
Now look at this, his economy rate bowling the short deliveries has been extremely miserly (5.3 RPO), but the pacer has to be extremely careful about where he bowls, given he has conceded plenty of runs when bowling the other lengths.