New Zealand: Battling the Form Book

Posted on February 10, 2011 by

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This is probably the worst buildup that New Zealand have had to a world cup, since 1992. Thanks to a combination of injuries, indifferent form, and inexperience in subcontinental conditions, they have won only 3 of their last 17 games. This includes a run of 14 losses out of 15 in the middle – worse than Bangladesh’s record against South Africa.

Rewind to 1992. After losing just about every match in their build up, New Zealand went on to be the top qualifier for the semi-finals, losing only to Pakistan in the league stage, and then losing to them in an agonisingly close semi-final. Their magic run can be put down to four things, which perhaps could be the recipe this time around too:

  1. Innovation: New Zealand opened the bowling with an off spinner and used an aggressive batsman as an opener.  Both of these were unheard of. This time, the new coach (John Wright) has already shown himself to be prepared to change some things round.  While they are not as likely to be innovative under the captain conservative Vettori, some of the talk coming out of the team is encouraging on that front.
  2. Taking the pace off the ball: Back then, the likes of Harris, Larsen, Patel, Latham and Watson were used to good effect. New Zealand have picked 4 spinners and 3 medium pacers in the current squad. Could we see Styris, Ryder, Franklin, Williamson, Nathan McCullum, Vettori and Woodcock recreating the hazy days of dibbly, dobbly, wibbly and wobbly?
  3. Having one batsman dominate: In 1992, Martin Crowe scored 456 runs with an average of 114 at a strike rate of 90.83. For this year’s edition, our pick may be a little left-field: James Franklin. He scored over 1200 first class runs last year, despite regularly playing in unhelpful conditions. He also averages 106.5 in ODI’s in South Asia, at a strike rate of 93.  (And he’s a vampire. Look at this picture and tell me he isn’t a vampire.)
  4. Scoring lots of 50’s: The class of 1992 had 16 scores of 50 or more – 3 more than the next team in this regard. As of now, no side is as bad at converting 50’s to 100s as NZ. Over the last 12 months, only Australia has more scores between 50 and 100, and they have an unfair advantage in that count, in that they have Shane Watson.

More seriously, New Zealand are going to have to overcome terrible form if they are going to progress far in this tournament, but they do have a much better squad than recent performances  would suggest.

Key Men:

Styris and Franklin are the form players, but the likes of Taylor, McCullum and Vettori will almost certainly have to fire if NZ are to go far. If Ryder stays fit, he’ll provide the much-needed firepower at the top, while Kyle Mills is slowly regaining the consistency that saw him climb to the top of the bowlers’ rankings in late 2009. Additionally, the performances of Guptill and Southee will be crucial; if they can turn their undoubted potential into solid performances, it will be a great lift to the team overall.

Effect of Conditions:

One of the main reasons for NZ’s struggles on the subcontinent last year was the pressure the opposition slow bowlers were able to exert during the middle overs. The side desperately needs someone to work the spinners around, and Styris and Franklin (and potentially Williamson) are the men most likely to manage this. Ryder is probably the best player of spin in the side, making it a good case for him to remain at #3.

Although the quicks probably won’t find conditions to their liking, Vettori has a nice range of options to work with. He has often brought Nathan McCullum on early, sometimes even to open the bowling – and it would be nice to see him bowl himself at the death more often, as he is such an outstanding limited-overs operator. Look for Oram and Mills to use their variations to good effect against the heavy hitters. Hamish Bennett has shown promise as a strike-bowler and could be used in short bursts.

Strengths:

  1. Strong lower-middle order: Franklin, Vettori, Oram and Nathan McCullum provide batting depth and serious hitting power which could be decisive in the closing stages of an innings, provided the top order actually sets a platform.
  2. Slow Bowlers: As stated earlier, NZ’s slow-ish attack could make things difficult for opposition batsmen, in the dibbly-dobbly tradition.

NZ also play some of their best cricket when written off by everybody, a trait which stands them in good stead each time the World Cup comes around!

Weaknesses:

  1. The Top Order: All of Taylor, Ryder, Guptill and Styris have an average in the mid 30’s but often fail to capitalise on starts, leaving the lower order too much to do.
  2. Death Bowling: With the possible exception of Tim Southee, bowling at the death is not NZ’s forte. This has cost them several close games; Yusuf Pathan’s demolition job in Banaglore is a recent example.

Apart from this, there is always the lurking threat of injury. Given the fitness issues surrounding Vettori, Oram, Ryder and McCullum, NZ may not be able to field their strongest side when most needed.

Predictions:

Michael: If the games go as I’m expecting, New Zealand will play South Africa in the quarter final. The trick to playing South Africa is to give them a chance to choke. New Zealand are a good team at putting sides under pressure when they really shouldn’t be, and so I expect that New Zealand will again lose in the semi-finals.

Suhas: For me, the odds are on a quarter-final exit. Though they are capable of upsetting the form book, NZ will struggle to keep up with the batting depth of India or South Africa. The Zimbabwe game in the league phase will be a tricky one.

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Preview by Suhas Cadambi and Michael Wagener