Thinking On The Blackcaps World Cup Squad Based On Stats Since the Last One – Part 2, Batting

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We’ve already taken a peek at the bowlers so it only makes sense that the beautiful batsmen would get their turn in the sunlight. Four years of fours and sixes and run outs and raised bats. A lot of things that went exactly as expected and a fair few sneaky pointers in there too. We’ve got a World Cup squad to select and time is running out for anyone new to throw their hat into the ring. Runs on the board matter and here’s what we’ve got.

We’ve got three elite batsmen. Forget about T20s and Tests, that’s the very essence of Guptill Syndrome. Marty Guptill gets naming rights on the theory because he’s the greatest example of it out there. Guppo is an average Test batsman. Played heaps and remains average. Not terrible… but only average and there are much better options out there in the Test team. But on the One Day International scene he is quite honestly one of the best in the business, an opening batsman whose stats and reputation can hang with anybody on the planet. Then he goes and tons up in an ODI and some joker’s on talk radio the next day saying put him back in the Test team. Mate, that’s not how this should work. Celebrate the man for his ODI Greatness and don’t go taking it out of context – it doesn’t need to be taken out of context, the context is brilliant enough.

And that context, since the World Cup (remember when he double-tonned in the quarter-final!?) is 2390 runs at an average of 49.79 and a strike-rate of 93s. SEVEN centuries. If you’re averaging fifty in the Test arena then you’re justifiably on that top shelf. If you’re getting this close to that in the ODIs then, let me tell you, that is next level.

Here’s the thing about that too… the Blackcaps have three batsmen who are on that next level. Not one not two but three. Each of them averages more than 47 since the last World Cup, each of them with more than 2000 runs and at least five centuries in that time. You already know who the other two are: Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. They don’t comply with Guptill Syndrome at all because they are individually excellent in both ODIs and Test, irrespective of each form. Williamson is an elite Test batsman and an elite ODI batsman. Taylor too. There’s a secondary theory of mine which is that international batting is a downward-translatable but not upwards-translatable artform. A great Test batsman can slide down and be a great ODI batsman (though not all the time, every rule has an exception and Test openers are a different beast) whereas going from ODIs to Tests doesn’t seem to have any real pattern of success. The tools and techniques that Test batting requires are more fundamental. ODIs (and T20Is too, because I reckon the rule applies for the transition between them and ODIs as well) need more creativity and spontaneity, which are easier to adapt to when you’ve got the fundamentals on lock.

Kane Williamson: 58 Gm | 2630 Runs | 47.81 Ave | 84.24 SR | 5 100s | 19 50s

Ross Taylor: 51 Gm | 2580 Runs | 69.72 Ave | 86.89 SR | 8 100s | 15 50s

Martin Guptill: 54 Gm | 2390 Runs | 49.79 Ave | 93.21 SR | 7 100s | 12 50s

That’s just astounding. To have one batsman on that level is amazing but three in the same team? That’s got New Zealand on par with the World Cup favourites. Here’s the complete list of players with at least 2000 runs at an average above 45 since the 2015 WC: Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Joe Root, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Quentin de Kock, Shikhar Dhawan, Martin Guptill, Faf du Plessis, Babar Azam, Tamim Iqbal and David Warner. A few other Englishmen have piled on the runs but not at the same average, they just play too much cricket. The only one with a better average than King Rossco on that list is the incomparable Virat Kohli, the number one ODI batsman on the planet and it ain’t even close. That man has averaged 81.87 over the last four years. That’s his average, not his strike rate. He has 17 tons and 15 fifties.

But Taylor is the closest thing to him. Sustaining that average over four years is incredible, he’s batted 48 times in those four years, getting dismissed in single figures only five times and passing fifty 23 times. He’s passed fifty in his last six consecutive innings. Taylor didn’t actually have a very good World Cup last time, his top score was 56 against Bangladesh, but the dude turns 35 in March and he’s never looked better. Get ready.

As for Prince Kane, what else is there to say that hasn’t been said? He’s immaculate. The only thing with him in ODIs is that he’s thrown away a few centuries, affecting the average and the conversion rate. Still, when Kane Flippin’ Williamson is your third best batsman in the statties then your batting lineup is in a fine state. Three blokes under absolutely no threat whatsoever for the WC squad.

And three blokes who allow for somebody like Colin Munro to play. A real pinch-hitter at the top, same as Brendon McCullum in 2015 only obviously not as good. Munro’s record is not ideal. Never scored a hundy (although that’s not really his job) and averages just 25.74 over this stretch of time. Doing it at a strike-rate of 108.29 though and with so much willow-wielding talent around him all he’s gotta do is pump the ball to the boundaries a few times and get the team ahead of the curve for the superstars to take it from there. No doubt that Munro’s success rate in this role is not good enough… but he showed flashes in the previous series and considering he’s been given the bulk of the opening duties alongside Guptill in the last two years, the writing is on the wall. You don’t invest in a bloke over two years and throw him aside two months out from the thing you’ve been building towards.

Colin Munro: 39 Gm | 901 Runs | 25.74 Ave | 108.29 SR | 0 100s | 5 50s

The only other folks to have opened the batting since the World Cup are: Brendon McCullum (retired), Luke Ronchi (retired), Dean Brownlie (a bit old), George Worker (still a chance but way on the outer) and Tom Latham. Tom Latham who averaged 39.42 with three hundreds as an opener in 31 innings since the 2015WC but has since been reshaped, successfully, as a wicket-keeping number five. Latham hasn’t opened since May 2017 in that weird pre-Champions Trophy tournament with a second-string team. Also those three tons as opener came against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh (x2). Batting at five he scored a magical 103no in India at the first attempt and he’s now in a real scrap for that gig with Henry Nicholls who took his chance against Sri Lanka.

Here are your middle order candidates, minimum of 15 innings…

Tom Latham – 51 Gm | 1701 Runs | 37.80 Ave | 85.82 SR | 4 100s | 11 50s

Mitch Santner – 53 Gm | 771 Runs | 28.55 Ave | 91.13 SR | 0 100s | 2 50s

Hank Nicholls – 33 Gm | 814 Runs | 37.00 Ave | 89.15 SR | 1 100 | 6 50s

Jimmy Neesham – 28 Gm | 788 Runs | 37.52 Ave | 106.19 SR | 0 100s | 5 50s

Neil Broom – 17 Gm | 610 Runs | 38.12 Ave | 88.92 SR | 1 100 | 4 50s

Colin de Grandhomme – 21 Gm | 356 Runs | 29.66 Ave | 106.58 SR | 0 100s | 1 50

We can rule Neil Broom right out now, he’s been usurped as the backup middle order chap by whoever misses out between Latham & Nicholls. His average looks nice but know that it drops starkly to 15.40 when he isn’t playing Bangladesh or Ireland. Been there done that.

Santner has been picked a bit as a proper all-rounder before but is best suited as number eight, though the numbers aren’t terrible by any means. Jimmy Neesham is one who might just have played himself into the squad with some explosive late innings striking against Sri Lanka, offering the Blackcaps the x-factor closer they desperately needed… plus he’s got that silky batsmanship which means he can occupy the crease as well. As a number six and a part-time bowler he offers heaps… but an untimely injury will give others a shot in the first three ODIs vs India to stake a claim of their own. Neesham’s numbers before his recent comeback weren’t great but they’re better than I expected (average of 33.25 batting between 4-7) and he’s been one of the top bats in the domestic stuff this season with the Wellington Firebirds.

Personally I don’t think there’s any question he should be there – we need what Jimmy Neesham can offer in order to balance the team out. Quite like that he’s incorporated a decent slower ball to his bowling as well, making him a possible closer in each innings (not sure how far I’d wanna test that idea with the ball though, to be fair).

However there are a couple wrinkles there that could affect him. Colin de Grandhomme’s continued presence is one. Neesham clearly tops him with the bat but CDG is a better bowler and that does matter when we’re often only picking four front-liners (not something I particularly like, that – relying on Neesham/Williamson/Munro for 10 overs in a World Cup knockout game is an enormous risk). CDG has the tendency to have that one quality outing just as his place is under threat to keep him in there… although in ODIs, and I touched on this with his bowling in Part 1, he really hasn’t had as many opportunities. If he doesn’t succeed against India then not sure where he fits in… better take this chance then. CDG’s batting vs Doug Bracewell’s batting will be a curious one if they both get games, that pair are gassing it for the fifteenth spot.

The other thing counting against Neesham is that we’ve gotta fit a WK in there somewhere. Tim Seifert is the specialist gloveman of late yet with 33 runs in two innings he hasn’t been able to show much with the bat in his three games. There’s no question that Nicholls and Latham are superior batsmen so it’s down to who gets the gloves.

And that Latham vs Nicholls thing is funky. Latham was the established five until he was rested last series and Nicholls stepped right up. Prior to that, Nicholls had only really looked at home in Tests. Averaging 32.15 in 30 ODIs after the Pakistan series, he’s driven that all the way up to 37.00 now with that marvellous 124 not out. The question for the selectors is whether that hot hand trumps the more established Tom Latham – who is also a wicket-keeping option. Recency bias is a powerful thing… but I’d suggest to you that the balance of the team is better if Latham takes the gloves and bats at five, with Neesham at six. Of course, you could have both Latham and Nicholls and then Neesham/CDG (/Bracewell) at seven as the fifth bowler instead. Or Nicholls at five and Latham opening instead of Munro (not that I think the selectors are considering this one – they like what Munro can offer on the rare occasions that he actually offers it).

What’s beyond doubt at this point is that Nicholls and Latham are both going to the World Cup. They might not both make the first XI but they’ll both be there. Does Seifert also tag along as a reserve keeper? I’d reckon so… although Nicholls can keep in an emergency and that idea has already been floated around. Pressure on Seifert then, isn’t there? Not taking him would free up a spot for CDG.

Not gonna bother with any bowlers stats with the bat, they’re there to roll the arm over and any runs at the bottom is a bonus (and a sign that we lost too many wickets up top). George Worker is an interesting one, in and around the side but only played 10 matches with an average of 34. Strike-rate’s a bit low as well. Then there’s BJ Watling, another keeper who might be a steadier hand on both sides than Seifert… though has only played six ODIs since the World Cup. 45 runs at an average of 9.00… doubt they go back to that well again.

And unfortunately for Mark Chapman he didn’t put his hand up at all with 9 runs in 3 innings when he got a go last year and has dipped out of focus. Other peripheral bats with strong domestic resumes such as Tom Bruce, Will Young and Glenn Phillips have all tasted the international fruit but none of them have ever played an ODI. Maybe next World Cup for those fellas.

Wildcard’s Blackcaps World Cup Squad:

Kane Williamson (c), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Lockie Ferguson, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham, Hank Nicholls, Mitch Santner, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee & Ross Taylor.

There’s a genuine debate over Bracewell and CDG so I reserve the right to change my mind over the India series. My ideal XI would have Guptill and Munro opening, with Williamson and Taylor to follow. No arguments likely there outside of Munro but can you honestly see him getting dropped between now and then? At worst he’ll give us some fireworks against a couple of the weaker sides at the World Cup. I’m putting Latham at five to wear the gloves. Neesham at six. Santner coming in at seven if it’s earlier than the 40, if we’re into those death overs then I’d consider bumping Southee up from eight. Sodhi at nine for those juicy leggies and the middle-over threat (he and Santner in tandem in those overs 30-40 would be enchanting) then Fergo and Boult rounding it out with pace and swing (respectively). That’ll probs cause some debate even within TNC Towers but, honestly, it kinda looks like at least 12, possibly even 13, of the squad spots have already been written in ink.

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