posted on 2019-07-16 12:56:46
posted by Swetha Harini
image credits: India Today (Reuters)
It seemed extremely fitting that pre-tournament favourites England, who were also the hosts, lifted their first ever World Cup last night – or, was it? No other match has ever thrown open the Pandora’s Box as much as the finals of the 2019 World Cup has. Was England the deserved winners? Should New Zealand have won the game? Did ICC rules rob the Kiwis of the trophy? Was it fair that the winners were decided based on the number of boundaries scored in the innings? Should England have been awarded 5 runs instead of 6 for the ball that deflected off Ben Stokes’ bat? A plethora of questions and contrasting theories have been doing rounds since Sunday. But there was one man who made sure England savoured their win, and it was the Kiwi captain Kane Williamson.
On being questioned about those unlucky moments, the ever-so-gracious Kane Williamson chose not to be critical of either the ICC rules or the umpiring howlers. Standing true to the Kiwi’s moniker of being the “nicest guys”, he simply underplayed the magnitude of the incidents, and termed them “a bit of a shame”. Pundits and fans, however, have not been so forgiving. Calling out the ICC rules and pinpointing umpiring errors, they have been terming NZ as the “real winners”.
The Black Caps would definitely be overwhelmed with the reaction, especially since their qualification to the knockouts was a subject of much ridicule. Media was brimming with fierce polemic of whether the Black Caps were the deserved fourth semi-finalist. Starting off its tournament with a bang and winning five of its first six matches, New Zealand was sitting atop the league table with an impressive Net Run Rate. However, their performance started to plunge and so, they had to depend on the results of other teams to know their fate. That they tasted defeats against strong teams, viz, England, Australia and Pakistan, and scraped through to the semi-finals aided by their NRR from wins against lesser teams like Sri Lanka and Afghanistan did not sit well with the critics. Questions about NRR were raised, the team was deemed lucky and the format was condemned. But their win against India in the semis changed this equation and swelled the support The Kiwis had. It will not be an understatement that the team’s humility and niceness are also reasons for the humongous backing the Black Caps enjoyed. In short, after a shaky start in the league stages, the Kiwis upped their game to stun the pre-tournament favourites in the semis and unfortunately, ended the tournament as the runners-up – losing by 0 runs! It was an agonizing “so near, yet so far” for the Black Caps.
What went right for the Kiwis?
Bowling has always been New Zealand’s strength and it was so this world cup as well. When the bowlers, led by Trent Boult, dismissed India for a paltry 179 in their first warm-up match, they established the black caps as worthy contenders. It could, since, be said that the success of the Kiwis depended on their pacers – and they did not disappoint. Boult and the pace-gun Lockie Ferguson flustered the batsmen, making certain they do not settle down. The 652 dot-balls bowled between them speaks volume about their contribution.
The Kiwis will also be mighty pleased with the performance of the other pacers – Matt Henry, Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme, who picked up wickets at defining moments of the game. Henry rattled the Indian top-order picking up 3/37 off his 10 overs in the semifinals, whereas Neesham was instrumental in distorting the English in the finals with a 3/43. Also, when he picked up 5/31 against Afghanistan, Neesham recorded the only five-wicket haul by a Kiwi bowler this WC.
Mitchell Santner was a revelation too. His performance against India in the semi-finals proved his case. He plugged the run-flow in the middle-overs, sent back the dangerous Pandya and ended the spell with figures of 2/34 off his 10.
Among the batsmen, captain Kane Williamson was the brightest spot. He lived up to his reputation as being the go-to man of the Kiwis. Walking-in at almost as early as the first over in many matches, he managed to remain unruffled and ignored the score-card pressure. At the end of Kiwis’ journey this tournament, he remained the only black cap to have scored centuries (2). The contributions of all-rounders Neesham and de Grandhomme has also been impressive- they ended the WC with a combined score of 446 runs. Neesham’s all-round abilities were at the fore last night too when he was sent to bat in the super-over.
Although Martin Guptill failed with the bat, he more than made up for it on-the-field. The direct hit to dismiss MS Dhoni in the semi-finals is a prime example. He also took a blinder to send back a set Steve Smith in NZ’s marquee match against Australia. He ended up saving more than 35 runs for his team, in turn making it impossible for the captain to bench him.
What went wrong?
The Kiwis will definitely concord that their opening partnership(s) was a major disappointment. None of Guptill, Henry Nicholls or Colin Munro was able to record consistent performances throughout the tournament. Guptill, in fact, failed to last more than 10 deliveries in most matches, scoring only 186 runs in 10 innings at an average of 20.66. From being the top run-getter in the 2015 edition, he plummeted to recording the worst average among openers this year, much to the misery of the Kiwis. The openers’ slump meant that captain Kane Williamson, who was also their best batsman this tournament, had to bat within the first 5 overs.
Additionally, the most experienced Ross Taylor scoring only 350 runs from 10 matches, did not help the Kiwis’ cause. Although he scored three fifties this world cup – the maximum for a Kiwi batsman, he failed to convert them into centuries. The Black Caps would have felt let-down with his performance, as he was the world’s second –best batsman from 2015 to the start of the World Cup.
Although being termed the
“underdogs”, New Zealand pulled off a stunning victory to send India crashing
out of the tournament.
They were able to restrict the mighty Indian top-order, picking their 3 key batsmen for 1 run each. The Black Caps exposed the vulnerability of Indian batsmen and made sure they never took control of the game. The Kiwis will also be pleased with their performance in the finals, albeit ending on the losing side. The bowlers strangled the English batsmen and forced them to commit errors. The fielders ably supported the bowling attack and ensured the game worthy of the finals.
The Kiwis will be delighted with the performance of allrounder Jimmy Neesham, who earned a WC call 18 months after contemplating quitting cricket. He scored 256 runs off his 10 innings at an average of 36.57, including one half-century. However, the reality is far from what the numbers suggest. Neesham was a vital cog in the Black Caps middle order. His ability to rotate strikes and hit the biggies propelled his team’s run-rate, and in turn the total. Similarly, Colin de Grandhomme also proved his mettle as an able all-rounder, ending the tournament with the best strike-rate for any kiwi batsman (100.52). With the World t20 fast approaching, the Black Caps would surely want to invest on Neesham and Grandhomme.
The Kiwi bowlers have provided them exceptional starts this World Cup. To be specific, having picked a combined tally of 38 wickets, the duo of Boult and Lockie Ferguson could safely be dubbed the trump card of the Kiwis. Lockie, whose average pace was 142.5kmph, finished with 21 wickets, just 6 shy of the leader Mitch Starc. Both Ferguson and Boult ended their world cup campaign being ranked among the top ten highest wicket-takers of the tournament- while the former is second on the list, the latter is at number 7. Furthermore, Matt Henry has taken the most wickets in the first powerplay this WC (8).
Kane Williamson rewrote record books this world cup by becoming the captain who has the most runs in a single edition. He went past Mahela Jayawardena’s 548 runs scored in the 2007 WC. Williamson finished the tournament with 578 runs, at an average of 82.57-the second best this edition. His tally of runs also saw him become the only captain behind Greg Chappell and Allan Border to have more runs in an ODI tournament.
That he scored more than 30% of his teams’ total runs- the highest this world cup- shows how important he was to his team. Contrarily, it also goes on to show how poor the opening partnership was. He also scored the top 2 highest scores for NZ – 148 vs WI and 106* vs SA.
What could change?
Ross Taylor has most certainly played his last World Cup and the Black Caps will feel a void once the experienced Taylor hangs his boots. New Zealand will definitely devote time and attention to groom a proper number 4 batsman – who shall have huge shoes to fill. Not only does Taylor bring in the experience, but he also acts as a fulcrum around which the other batsmen can build the innings. Additionally, the Kiwis will also be tempted to look beyond Martin Guptill. His lack of contribution at the top meant New Zealand was one of the teams which could not go past 300 even in a single match.
The Black Caps will be interested in training Henry Nicholls and Tom Blundell, the back-up wicketkeeper. The latter could be groomed into a decent batsman as he showed composure in his test debut against West Indies where he went on to score a century. The Black Caps will hope that the youngsters are inspired to help them lay their hands on that elusive WC trophy.