On the surface, the Aotearoa vs Sri Lanka ODI series was all about runs and life wasn't too funky for the bowlers. Yet the difference between the two teams and a factor in the Blackcaps sweepin' Sri Lanka was their bowling attack, which took wickets at key times and snatched any hopes of a win away from the tourists. By no means was this the Blackcaps bowlers at their best though and we gotta be straight up here in saying that Sri Lanka were fairly mediocre with the ball, thus making the task of being the superior bowling attack that much easier.
There were many wrinkles of intrigue to take from this series, especially as India are next up and they've got a batting group packed with firepower as well as a nifty bowling unit who will be better than Sri Lanka. The most notable kiwi bowler was Ish Sodhi and his x-factor during the middle stages of the innings was a huge asset for the Blackcaps.
Sodhi took 8w @ 18.50avg/5.16rpo and that economy rate was the lowest of any bowler who took a wicket in the series. Package that with Sodhi's strike-rate of 21.5 not quite being the best bowling strike-rate of kiwi bowlers (Lockie Ferguson had 18sr, Jimmy Neesham 20sr) and it provides an insight of Sodhi being a factor whenever the Blackcaps wanted to 'tighten the screws' during an innings.
Despite being the leading wicket-taker, Sodhi maintained a low economy rate and bowled the most overs of any Blackcaps bowler. This is a minor thing of beauty given that we tend to think of Sodhi as having at least one bad ball an over in him and we got a glimpse of Sodhi being a dual threat; taking wickets and stemming the flow of runs. Those two threats do blend together and while this was a massive series for Sodhi, he must now back it up against India.
This was a massive series for Sodhi because of Mitchell Santner's absence. Santner has an ODI career economy rate of 4.90, backed up by 4.70 in List-A cricket and Santner's value is more aligned with building pressure. If Sodhi's building pressure and naturally posing a greater threat through his arsenal of leg-spinning weapons, plus the likes of Jimmy Neesham, Tim Seifert etc are scoring runs, then Santner may find himself in a niggly predicament.
During the first ODI, it was noted that Sodhi reverted to wrongies far more regularly than his leggies and the commentators believed this was because Sodhi had 'lost confidence' in his leggies. This didn't feel correct though and whether it was Sodhi bowling very straight to lefties, or cramping righties, it felt more like a case of Sodhi executing plans. I don't think Sodhi would ever lose confidence in his leggies, especially not because he's dragged one or two halfway down the pitch. We all know that Sodhi has half-trackers in him, something that can be annoying but you'd be a fool to ignore the fact that half-trackers get wickets.
I go this route because along with being a huge factor in tightening the screws each innings, Sodhi's variety and confidence to showcase that variety was an interesting development in this series. There will be times when Sodhi can be effective with flighted leggies, but with more runs being scored in ODI cricket than ever, the full range of tricks are required.
Another interesting note regarding Sodhi is that this dominant effort vs Sri Lanka came after a lacklustre tour of United Arab Emirates. In 24 overs vs Pakistan, Sodhi took 2w @ 63avg/5.25rpo and while he was more economical (with 3 maidens), that series featured less runs in general. I'm of the belief that Sodhi is a pure kiwi leggy and it's his bounce, along with his tricks and skill, which is what makes Sodhi a unique bowler.
In apparently more favourable conditions such as Asia, Sodhi averages 46.33. Or Africa where Sodhi averages 53.16. In Aotearoa, Sodhi averages 25.95 and these conditions are the most similar to England, where the World Cup will be held. With that and all of the above about Sodhi, there's an air of Sodhi being a key weapon for the Blackcaps at the World Cup.
In terms of seam bowling, the big winner was Lockie Ferguson as he was 2nd behind Sodhi with 6w @ 17.50avg/5.83rpo. Like Sodhi, Ferguson is a weapon and we must again consider how dominant the batting is in ODI cricket now; you need legit weapons to go with the classy lads. Unlike Sodhi and perhaps to the surprise of some kiwis, Ferguson was emphatic vs Pakistan as the leading wicket-taker and best kiwi bowler by a hefty margin.
Ferguson took 11w @ 12.81avg/4.80rpo and the next best average was Colin de Grandhomme's 29.66. That's two ODI series in a row - in vastly different conditions - where Ferguson has been the best kiwi seamer and that can only be described as emphatic.
Juxtapose Ferguson against Matt Henry and cricket hipsters around Aotearoa are in for a bit of a shock. Henry only played one game vs Pakistan and took 1w @ 5.30rpo, here's the direct comparison for the Sri Lanka series...
Ferguson: 6w in 18ov @ 17.50avg/5.83rpo.
Henry: 3w in 27.2ov @ 67avg/7.35rpo.
We all know and love to point out Henry's (still very healthy post-series) average of 26.78. That's no fluke in 39 games and I bring up Henry's series vs Sri Lanka because of a highly competitive Blackcaps bowling group, now making Henry's series vs India crucial to his involvement at the World Cup. My gut feel is that you can't have Henry and Tim Southee in the same 1st 11 ... well, you could if Ferguson wasn't a factor. With Ferguson impressing and Southee borderline locked in, Henry's got to show and prove.
Damn skippy Southee's locked in, as is Trent Boult. I won't pretend like their recent efforts suggest they are certain selections though because their recent efforts make for weird reading...
vs Pakistan (in UAE)
Southee: 1w in 18.3ov @ 79avg/4.27rpo
Boult: 4w @ 48.50avg/6.46rpo.
vs Sri Lanka (in NZ)
Southee: 2w in 15ov @ 57avg/7.60rpo.
Boult: 3w in 20ov @ 42avg/6.30rpo.
The word 'poo' springs to mind when absorbing those stats.
However, both Southee and Boult should be in a World Cup 1st 11. Whether you want to point to their experience and generally having a couple proven world-class batsmen/bowlers, or that Boult averages 26.66 in England and Southee averages 28.16.
As we've seen in this Sri Lanka series, having Southee and Boult struggle, creates space for others to step up. The Blackcaps won a series 3-0 with Southee and Boult both averaging over 40, both conceding over 6rpo and this was partly thanks to Sodhi and Ferguson filling that void. Maybe in a strange way, that's what I want to see at this stage of the World Cup preparations.
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Peace and love 27.