Semifinalists Forever?

new zealand

New Zealand World Cup 2015 Squad. Source

They are a team that is never blessed with exceptional batting talents like Kohli, Amla ,Clarke or Sangakkara nor do they boast of men like Steyn, Malinga, Naraine or Johnson who can give sleepless nights to the opposition. Every time the teams are analysed before the World Cup, they fall into a category of their own- a team that has all the potential to reach the semifinal but a place in final still looks a distant dream.  If the numbers don’t lie , then this team looks more prepared than ever to leave behind this reputation and take a step ahead, after all they have been the most impressive team of 2014 and are continuing their dream run in 2015 with 2-0 test series whitewash to Sri Lanka. Yes, we are talking about the New Zealand , the black caps or the kiwis and the co hosts of the ICC World Cup 2015.

There is an almost unanimous opinion among all those who follow cricket closely that 2014 has been New Zealand’s year. They have won the one day series against India and Pakistan and have won 3 of their last 4 test series against the Windies, India and Sri Lanka and drawn 1-1 against Pakistan in UAE. The dream run started with a home series against India in which the visitors could not taste a single victory in 5 ODIs and 2 tests. The tour was particularly marked by Brendon McCullum’s two double centuries in tests that included one triple ton and a splendid performance by Kane Williamson in the ODI series scoring a total of 361 runs with 5 consecutive half centuries. Since then, this has been the tone for the New Zealand batting line up- Captain McCullum leading from front and Kane Williamson his rightful deputy.

McCullum has scored three double centuries in tests and missed the fourth one by mere 5 runs in 2014.  His 202 in 188 balls against the Pakistan in Sharjah test and 195 in 137 balls against the Lankans at Christchurch are intimidating enough for any bowling attack in the world. As Harsha Bhogale pointed out, he has hit total 33 sixes in tests in 2014 which is more than the collective number of sixes hit by India(31), South Africa(25) and England(25).  Complementing McCullum is the vice captain Kane Williamson who has emerged as their Mr. Dependable across all the formats.  Williamson has scored 1240 runs in 19 test innings with 5 centuries(Highest 242* vs SL) at an average of 50 and strike rate above 80 since 2014. In ODIs he has smashed 770 runs in 12 innings at a staggering average of 70 and strike rate of 87.  His 49 ball 101* against Cape Cobras in the Champions League t20 was just another master class to mark his superiority across all the formats. Williamson was also the skipper of the side that grabbed the 5 match ODI series against Pakistan in UAE. One of the reasons for Williamson’s success in the middle order is his partnership with Ross Taylor- one of the most experienced players in the current world cup squad.  Taylor has scored 662 runs in 13 ODI innings with 3 centuries at whooping average of just above 66 and strike rate more than 88 in the year 2014. In addition, his experience of last two world cups will be highly valuable to guide a talented but relatively inexperienced team.  At least one of these top 3 batsmen have to get runs in every game to keep the campaign going for New Zealand.

If one thinks that the New Zealand are running on a tight budget in terms of the batting resources in a format that is largely dominated by batsmen, the all rounders have been the biggest treasure of New Zealand Cricket for last two decades. Starting from Chris Cairns and Chris Harris, the allrounders have always been the backbone of the New Zealand team in limited overs.  The current world cup squad boasts of 5 all rounders in the form of Daniel Vettori, Corey Anderson, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills and Grant Elliot. Daniel Vettori’s heroics with both bat and bowl and the expertise he brings to the table from his 18 years of experience is beyond anyone’s doubt. Corey Anderson who seems to have created an aura of himself after that squash buckling world record hundred in 36 balls has improved as a genuine allrounder. His 350 ODI runs in 2014 at an average of 43.75 with a mind blowing strike rate of 177 and 17 wickets including a 5 wicket hall make him one of the most dangerous players in this world cup. Nathan McCullum who doesn’t have any big records on his name has proved to be a useful allrounder with his career economy rate of 4.81 in 71 ODIs and is also one of the most skilful fielders in this New Zealand side. Kyle Mills has always showed his utility with a quick fire 30 in the lower order and a wicket or two in a supportive role over his 6 years old career. The inclusion of 35 years old Grant Elliot over Jimmie Nisham may have raised a few eyebrows but it is expected that his experience will be useful in nail biting finishes. The Kiwis have got a quality wicketkeeper in the form of Luke Ronchi who can contribute with the bat to provide the necessary depth in batting.

In the bowling department, the black caps might be lacking in experience but certainly not in terms of talent and versatility. The comeback of their most experienced player Daniel Vettori has bolstered the confidence this highly energetic bowling attack comprising of Southee, Boult, Milne and McClenghan. Daniele Vettori, admitted by many is the Master of the Craft when it comes to limited overs and has been consistently among the top 3 spinners in the world over past 7-8 years.  His 289 ODI wickets in 263 innings at an economy rate of mere 4.12 says everything about the impact this man can have over entire match.  The pace attack coached by Shane Bond has shown some impressive signs in past 12 months with Boult and McClenghan rising to the occasion when needed in recently concluded series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Besides, the Black Caps are banking on Tim Southee- the leader of the pack to provide crucial breakthroughs on regular basis throughout the tournament.

As I said earlier, this team is surely lacking star power but they make up for it with their collective team effort. Plus, they will be playing in favourable conditions at home in front of huge fan following- something the Kiwis haven’t had the privilege of in the world cups. Their record in this tournament is more than impressive with 3 semifinal births since 1999 WC. Surely, this is their best chance to establish themselves as a dominant team in cricket especially at a time when the passion for the game in their country is fading. If this team can manage to break the semifinal jinx this time to at least reach the final, it will be a fitting farewell to their legend Daniel Vettori and a huge boost for the game in a country that is still largely known for its Rugby.

This is a guest post by Aditya Bivalkar a Computer Engineer from VJTI currently working as software engineer at Core Athena Systems, Mumbai. An avid lover of cricket, likes to read content related to cricket and an ultimate foodie.

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