- Publish Date
- Tuesday, 12 February 2019, 11:59AM
That was a real good chuckle in Hamilton last night – a decent reminder of cricket's ability to entertain, to thrill and to occasionally embarrass. It was all helped by a buoyant crowd that seemed blissfully weighted in the visitors' favour.
It was also a fantastic example of how skewed New Zealand's cricket competencies have become – at the worst possible time.
Across the three-match T20I series, New Zealand averaged a team total of 196, a phenomenal achievement even if it did come against an experimental Indian attack.
Across the five-match ODI series, by contrast, they managed a paltry 189.
Before all the budding stattos jump in with the excuse that the figure is dragged down by the piffling run chase in Hamilton – New Zealand required just 93 to win – when calibrated to take into account just the four completed innings, it makes for only marginally better reading at 213 runs per innings.
The gulf between the two sides was vast. Across the series India scored 1067 for the loss of just 29 wickets; New Zealand scored 944 for 42.
You can get a bit lost in raw numbers, but you don't need to be an ex-international to confidently declare that sub-220 totals are not going to win too many games at a minnow-less World Cup.
New Zealand seem to have either lost confidence in the way they play the ODI game, or they're struggling to find a style that suits them. Neither is a great outcome. Since the visit of England at the end of last summer, New Zealand has compiled a record of seven wins, eight losses and a no result, despite playing 13 of 16 matches in home conditions (and that includes a 3-0 thrashing of hopeless Sri Lanka).
Unless there's a don't-show-your-cards-yet masterplan at play, the Black Caps appear to have turned themselves inside out to become a mediocre one-day unit on the eve of the sport's biggest tournament.
In limited overs cricket you tend to look first at the batting and what you probably see is confusion everywhere apart from positions 3 to 5. Working off the successful 2015 blueprint, the brains trust wanted powerplay fireworks but they have been doused by Colin Munro's lack of form and Martin Guptill's increasingly fragile body.
The Munro experiment appears to be over, with a late switch to a Henry Nicholls-Guptill pairing for the upcoming Bangladesh series. Tim Seifert's T20 pyrotechnics at the top of the order should land him seat 65F to England as back-up keeper and pinch hitter.
Below the reliable, experienced trio of Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham, Gray Stead's team seem to bank on one of a bunch of flighty all-rounders coming off on any given night.
Colin de Grandhomme has a penchant for hitting poor bowling for miles but struggles with a lift in class, while Mitchell Santner flatters to deceive with the bat and a strike rate below 90 is a late-innings handbrake. Jimmy Neesham is probably the most talented but there must have been good reasons he didn't play an ODI between mid-2017 and 2019.
You could turn back to Corey Anderson who has done it before, but he's probably not good enough as a batsman alone and breaks down when he bowls.
Outside of those options, there's just a couple of far-fetched questions: Is Doug Bracewell, whose batting has improved out of sight, a genuine all-round option? Have the selectors seen something in Daryl Mitchell over the recent T20 series to suggest he could be a bolter?
Even writing that appears fanciful. Hobson's choice, anyone?
As it stands, the uncertainty at the top – the approach as much as the personnel – and the hit-or-miss nature of the allrounders has heaped even more onus on Williamson, Taylor and Latham. Their shoulders and bats are typically broad – between them, despite each only passing 50 once, they scored exactly half of New Zealand's ODI runs against India - but even they succumbed to indian pressure, finding some unusual ways to get out.
The bowling unit is more settled. You can even envisage a scenario where Tim Southee, New Zealand's highest active ODI wicket-taker and with success in England on his CV, could be sitting outside the best playing XI. Trent Boult, Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson have all staked a claim for a starting spot.
Santner is the clear number one spinner. While carrying more than one to England could be a wasted spot, Todd Astle will get a chance to make a case against Bangladesh. Ish Sodhi faces a nervous wait.
The bowling pinch-point is, again, the all-rounders, and whether the likes of Neesham (career economy rate 6.47!) and De Grandhomme can be relied upon to bowl 10 overs, sometimes more, between them.
That uncertainty could open up a backdoor to World Cup selection for Munro, whose innocuous little scuttlers may prove handy in English conditions.
Four years ago, the only debate of note was whether Grant Elliott or Neesham would get the final all-rounders slot. Even that wasn't much of an argument. New Zealand knew the way they were going to play and knew the people they needed to get them there.
This time around, nothing seems quite as certain.
It's a problem that can be fixed. The 1992 team went into the World Cup with wretched form before Martin Crowe tore up the conventional playbook.
Williamson and Stead don't have to do anything quite so radical, but they do have to re-establish some sort of identity and the semblance of a batting plan. Wednesday would be a good time to start.
This column is a Monday-ised reboot of Midweek Fixture, which I have compiled for the past three-point-five years. The online version will continue to highlight some of best recent longform sports journalism I have happened across. If you see a story you think I should give a shout-out to, or have a story you think I should cover, please write me at [email protected]
THE MONDAY SPORTS READ ...
This piece is not much of a profile and focuses on only a partially willing subject, but the story it tells about the relationship between powerful sports bodies and the networks who screen their product is enlightening. Never again should you wonder why our rugby and cricket coverage is so sugary and sycophantic.
When Andy Murray tearfully announced his impending retirement some, like Wynne Gray, could not see what the fuss was about. Others, like Brian Phillips at The Ringer, could.
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.