Despite the entire world viewing New Zealand as the underdogs, they were literally the top dogs in their opening clash against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). All talks were about how Australia were going to roll through the Trans Tasmanian rivals, and register a win. But the reality was starkly different.
Like Kane Williamson said at the start of the tournament, New Zealand just focus on their cricket and not necessarily look at the world view. A thumping win against the defending champions is a result that the BlackCaps would take any day of the week. But for an opener, they couldn’t have asked for a better result.
Their rivals on Wednesday – Afghanistan – were far from convincing. In fact, their head coach, Jonathan Trott summed up their dismal outing against England as less dropped catches, less fumbles and less misfields if possible.
A few heads would definitely have bogged down in shame during the VODs (Video on Demand) after the clash. But they are a side that are known to cause a few upset, and with a well-rounded bowling unit, they could provide a stern test to the BlackCaps.
The Kane Conundrum
New Zealand are stronger than ever before, with the inclusion of Finn Allen, who thwarted Australia’s plans into the drain at the SCG. But even then, there is an area of concern for the Kiwis, that is the form of their skipper, Kane Williamson. Williamson does have the best average for any New Zealand batter in the T20 World Cups, with an average of 32 but the biggest catch there being is the strike-rate: 112.
In 2022, the right-hander has suffered a major dip in the form, with 443 runs, coming at an average of 24.6 and a strike-rate of 105, which is an all-time low for the right-hander. Not just that, he comes in at the most crucial juncture for the BlackCaps, at No.3. This conundrum has previously been seen in world cricket, most notably with Steve Smith for Australia.
Even in their opener on Saturday (October 22), Williamson played a very sub-par innings, scoring just 23 off 23 balls. What was more worrying was how the BlackCaps lost all sort of momentum after the quick start from Allen, who took New Zealand to 56/1 in just 4.1 overs. Eventually, they just scored 65 runs in the first six overs.
How can Afghanistan batters fare up against Kiwi bowlers?
The BlackCaps have one of the best bowling units in the competition, if not for the best. Such is the variety in their bowling unit, that teams often find it hard to counter their bowlers. In Afghanistan’s opening contest, they lost all their ten wickets to pacers, and found it extremely hard to counter the high pace from Mark Wood.
New Zealand, however, have Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult and Tim Southee, who all have the ability to extract extra bounce and pace on any conditions worldwide. In addition, Afghanistan have the worst strike-rate against pace in this year’s competition, at 83. It isn’t something new though, since the start of the year, only Sri Lanka have suffered more against high-pace than Afghanistan, going on to show a pattern.
All eyes would on Hazratullah Zazai, who has been having a shocker of a year, with a strike-rate of 119.2. Not to forget that he only clears the boundary every 73 deliveries, putting him under so much pressure at the top of the order. The lanky left-hander has the third-worst strike-rate against pace as well, making this clash against the BlackCaps extremely crucial for him.
Will Conway-Allen continue the good work?
New Zealand find themselves in this good position, partly due to the performance at the top of the order from Devon Conway and Finn Allen. Against them will be a strong spin attack in the form of Afghanistan, with the Asian side having bowled 155 overs of spin since the start of the year. Not only do their spinners have the best average in the year but also pick up a wicket within every fourth over.
Against spin, New Zealand are statistically the second-best team, with a run-rate of 8.7, joint-most with India. While spin didn’t really play a big role in India’s clash against Pakistan but Afghanistan spinners are a different gravy. Rashid Khan, Mujeeb ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi are perhaps the best in the world.
Since the start of the year, three Kiwi players have scored at least 100 runs against spinners – Glenn Phillips, Conway and Allen. Phillips has scored 162 runs against spinners @54 with a strike-rate of 144.6. Conway is just one run behind him, averaging 80.5. Even though Allen has played a lot of his cricket in New Zealand, he has shown attacking prowess against spin, with a strike-rate of 138.9.
Team Combination and Predicted XI
One of the only concerns for New Zealand prior to the tournament was how they could slot in Adam Milne. But the way their bowling unit performed in the opener against Australia, they wouldn’t want to tinker too much with their setup.
New Zealand XI: Devon Conway (wk), Finn Allen, Kane Williamson (c), Glenn Phillips, Mark Chapman, James Neesham, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi, Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult
After their dismal loss against Ireland, the Asian side might ponder two changes to their starting XI, with the likes of Darwish Rasooli and Naveen-ul-Haq waiting in the wings. With Fazalhaq Farooqi already in the XI, Afghanistan could look at replacing Fareed with Naveen. In the batting department, bringing in Darwish might be an option worth considering.
Afghanistan XI: Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Ibrahim Zadran, Usman Ghani/Darwish Rasooli, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi (c), Azmatullah Omarzai, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Fareed Ahmad Malik/Naveen-ul-Haq, Fazalhaq Farooqi