Thinking On The Blackcaps World Cup Squad Based On Stats Since the Last One – Part 1, Bowling

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There’s a lot of water goes under the bridge over a four-year World Cup cycle. Four years ago Mike Hesson and Brendon McCullum were only just getting used to their new roles as national heroes and a passionate public had only just forgotten the initial struggles of that leadership combo. Aotearoa’s finest ever Cricket World Cup performance will do that for ya – we do love a bunch of nice guy underdogs achieving on the global stage, after all.

The XI that fateful day, when Australia romped to World Cup glory at the MCG, read as thus: Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi, Dan Vettori, Tim Southee, Matt Henry and Trent Boult. As we round the bend into the final preparations for the 2019 edition in a few months, four of that team have since retired. A couple are enjoying the T20 circuit (one as a player and one as a coach), another recently popped by the Blackcaps to do some wicket-keeper training, while the fourth is the face of some major sponsor bank commercials or something.

Another one of that crew has spent most of the intervening years out injured or in that hopeful comeback stage pre-injury. One other has remained in and around the lads but hasn’t really seen as much international cricket as he’d hope. Then the other five are dead-set locks for the upcoming World Cup.

Now, it’d be a lie to say that the Blackcaps have been directly preparing for this tournament ever since the last one ended. They’ve of course been building their side in the awareness of the next World Cup but the Champions Trophy disaster showed pretty clearly that forward planning isn’t always the main focus – not when they spontaneously decided to recreate that World Cup side with inferior parts at late notice and naturally ended up failing miserably. Since then Mike Hesson has bowed out as Blackcaps coach and Gary Stead has stepped up. Times have been good, they’ve been playing well and winning games. A few positions in the World Cup squad are still absolutely up for grabs and we’ve engaged in plenty of hot debate in those regards. It’s all good fun.

Like a while back when I wrote a thing about Tim Southee’s horrible stats since the last World Cup, and a few weeks later that idea managed to sift into the wider cricketing mainstream (I mean, the stats were there all along just waiting to be uncovered). The fact remains that Tim Southee is a guaranteed selection for a full strength XI – we need his death bowling and that early swing (maybe stick to the wide yorkers at the end though, lad), not to mention the big game experience – so it’s more about getting Timmy taking wickets again rather than dropping him for someone else. But it’s a healthy debate to be having, especially with the side playing as well as they have been.

That form will be severely tested by an outrageously good Indian side this week, an Indian side who are the obvious favourites for the upcoming World Cup (alongside the hosts). However before that one turns into motion it might be worth having a peek at how the Blackcaps folks have gone in parallel to those Tim Southee numbers. Who, since the 2015 World Cup Final, has been scoring runs, who’s been taking wickets, who’s been getting all the games and who does that all suggest will be packing their bags for a trip to England in a couple months?

It’s only fair to start with the bowlers.

New Zealand has played 68 ODIs since the last World Cup, winning 39 and losing 26 with three no-results. A little way off Sri Lanka’s 79 ODIs in that time frame but still a pleasantly competitive quantity of matches considering the dearth of Tests lately. Plus the winning ratio of 1.50 wins per defeat is bloody useful – only England, India and South Africa can top it and South Africa only because they lost one fewer game.

So it should come as no surprise whatsoever to know that Trent Boult is way out on top with the most wickets in this time. 89 of them at 26.13 with three 4-fors and three more 5-fors (including a 7/34). The Cappies only have six 5-fors in this time combined… Boult has exactly half. The economy rate is on target for a 50-over score of 276 which is well within the realms of acceptable and he’s dotting up a maiden over almost every two games. Boult, in the last four years, has taken enough ODI wickets to sit tied with Lance Cairns for 18th all-time for New Zealand. More than James Franklin, Nathan McCullum or Mitch McClenaghan in their entire ODI careers.

Which is useful because if you cast your minds back, Trent Boult wasn’t even a top choice ODI bowler until just before the last World Cup. He’s only got 129 wickets all up. The head to head comparison with Tim Southee makes for a curious one given that Boult has only played three games more than Tim in this time…

Trent Boult – 89 wickets @ 26.13 | 5.51 Eco

Tim Southee – 48 wickets @ 44.54 | 5.70 Eco

Then to be fair to Southee it ain’t like too many other seamers have stepped up over the last four years and none who have as much money in the track-record bank. There’s one who definitely has and a couple who have done well in limited outings but we’re mostly talking about averages in the mid-low 30s which doesn’t massively put the pressure on.

Lockie Ferguson is the bloke who has rocked up and demanded selection, except that’s for the third seamer gig that Matt Henry/Adam Milne/Mitch McClenaghan have held in the past. That’ll only get funky if Stead & Williamson decide they want both Ish Sodhi and Mitch Santner in the side without dropping Fergo. Anyway, Ferguson has been immense lately and here are the other seam bowling options that have bowled in at least ten innings in the catchment period…

Matt Henry – 29 Gm | 250.2 Overs | 48 Wkts | 31.08 Ave | 5.96 Eco

Jimmy Neesham – 28 Gm | 128.0 Overs | 22 Wkts | 37.86 Ave | 6.50 Eco

Colin de Grandhomme – 21 Gm | 125.0 Overs | 13 Wkts | 49.38 Ave | 5.13 Eco

Lockie Ferguson – 21 Gm | 175.2 Overs | 38 Wkts | 26.15 Ave | 5.66 Eco

Adam Milne – 18 Gm | 144.3 Overs | 22 Wkts | 35.68 Ave | 5.43 Eco

Corey Anderson – 14 Gm | 51.0 Overs | 10 Wkts | 26.10 Ave | 5.11 Eco

Mitch McClenaghan – 13 Gm | 99.4 Overs | 16 Wkts | 37.87 Ave | 6.08 Eco

Then we’ve also got folks like Ben Wheeler, Hamish Bennett, Andrew Mathieson, Seth Rance and Scott Kuggeleijn (let’s not get into that one today) who have only played a handful of times and haven’t done anything special. None of them have hauled in better than a 3-for in limited opportunities. Not saying that a wider berth wouldn’t bring more success but there’s a long queue outside this particular club and the bouncer’s got his hands full already.

The one bloke who should get a chance to rise into that top list is Doug Bracewell, who has been the best of the rest with 14 wickets at 21.42 in nine games. Hasn’t played an ODI in thirteen months but he did some useful things in the last T20s and given that Gavin Larsen has a silly tendency to pick players based on formats other than the one he’s picking for, that counts in his favour. So does the fact that he can swing the bat a little. Not talking about first XI status by any means but he’d be a good shot to make the World Cup fifteen (I’d suggest he’s battling for that fifteenth spot with CDG). Anyway my esteemed colleague who delivers most of your cricketing masterpieces has already written in depth about that lad here.

Given Milne’s injury history – they reckon he’s 100% now but he’s got a lot of catching up to do – you’d figure he’s on the slide. They snuck him in on the back of a couple IPL games for the Champions Trophy and that didn’t go so well. Not that it matters – you cannot deny Ferguson after what he’s done in the last two series in particular. Neesham’s also looked a bit more handy with the ball and might be needed at the WC as a fifth bowler (he’s more of a sixth, tbh), especially with his delicious late-innings batting closer ability. Dude’s nudged CDG all the way to the brink – though with De Grandhomme it’s always been that he’s done way better at the T20 and Test level, his ODI career’s never been grand… up to the selectors to pick based on appropriate cricket formats now (I have a name for this trend and I call it Guptill Syndrome and shall write about it in greater detail in the future).

Matt Henry is the one alternate who really has gotten proper overs in and it’d be a real shock not to see him in the World Cup squad. He can come in for either Southee or Fergo and his batting, even if this shouldn’t matter in this convo, is pretty underrated. 48 wickets at 31s is bloody useful. He played the last World Cup final by being the next man up and he’s only gotten more used to that role since. You don’t keep a guy around the squad as much as they have with Matt Henry if you don’t trust him to contribute when he’s needed.

As for spinners, I don’t believe we even need to have a conversation here. With all due respect to Todd Astle and his handy leggies, he’s only actually bowled 28 overs in ODI cricket since the last World Cup. Untimely injuries haven’t helped but he’s never shown anything close to what Santner and Sodhi have accomplished. You’re not picking him as an all-rounder ahead of Neesham or CDG or maybe even Corey Anderson if he makes a miraculous return. You’re not picking him as a spinner ahead of Santner or Sodhi. And here is why…

Mitch Santner – 53 Gm | 408.1 Overs | 59 Wkts | 33.91 Ave | 4.90 Eco

Ish Sodhi – 28 Gm | 235.0 Overs | 39 Wkts | 33.30 Ave | 5.52 Eco

The Blackcaps have stood by Sodhi in the limited overs stuff over the last couple years and he’s coming off his best ever one-day series in the Sri Lanka tour. If Todd Astle was going to be a legit option at the World Cup then he’d have been given way more of these opportunities. He’ll probably get a chance in the India series where he’s joining the squad for games four and five and he’s still on the shortlist in the Test matches but, yeah, six games in four years doesn’t suggest he’s ready to spin the lads to glory at the World Cup and does anyone really think they’ll take three frontline spinners to England?

Santner and Sodhi on the other hand: different story. The tough part will be making room for both or dropping one (might depend on what they do with the wicket-keeping gloves – having Latham at five, or maybe even opening, would clear up a spot for an additional bowler which would be a relief so as not to have part-timers bowling at the death). Santner’s economy rate is literally world class. Plus in ODIs he actually takes a few wickets too. Sodhi’s numbers are skewed by the back end of those last four years but lately he’s been on fire – taking 20 wickets at 26.30 and an RPO of 5.82 in the year of 2018 (even that RPO, for a leggie, is great). Santner hasn’t played an ODI since March 2018 so he might still need to underline his name in the India series… but you’d expect him to do so.

Other spinners to have bowled in ODI cricket since the last World Cup are: Astle (7 wickets @ 21.42 / 5.35 Eco), Kane Williamson (11 wickets @ 37.54 / 5.16 Eco), Nathan McCullum (8 wickets at 41.00 / 6.69 Eco), Jeetan Patel (7 wickets @ 25.42 / 5.08 Eco) and Anton Devcich (0 wickets in 13.0 overs / 5.38 Eco). Not counting one over from George Worker or three from Martin Guptill (although Gups did take two wickets).

And then the only other bowlers still not acknowledged who have rolled the arm over since the last World Cup are Grant Elliott who snuck in a solid 73 overs, taking 10 wickets at 41s, and Colin Munro who has an unenviable average of 56.85 with the ball but he does get through a cheeky couple overs here and there with 7 wickets and an RPO of 5.10.

To be fair, a lot of these numbers are hard to compare because of small sample sizes and different opponents/conditions. To be even fairer, a lot of them paint a rather clearer picture. There actually doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of need for debate with the bowlers at the World Cup. The competition is only open if you include fellas like Milne, Astle and Anderson who simply haven’t played much ODI cricket recently. Astle, CDG and Doug Bracewell are probably going to get to shoot it out at Last Chance Saloon for that final all-rounder/alternate bowler reserve role and may the best man win. Other than that, if it seems too obvious then that’s because it is.

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