A few ripples of uncertainty couldn't hold the Blackcaps back from a reasonably impressive win over Sri Lanka in their ODI series opener. From Martin Guptill's big hundy, Jimmy Neesham's all-round contributions, the typical under-stated knocks from Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor all the way back around to a bowling effort that was eventually able to tighten the screws when it mattered most; there was a lot to like.
I start with the team selection though, with Tim Southee and Doug Bracewell given the orders to chill, as well as doing some fielding. There isn't a whole lot else that can be done with the batting unit at this stage and the extra squad numbers sit in the bowling department, which when combined with Southee not desperately needing to play and Bracewell ranked below Neesham in the all-rounder stakes and then the other bowlers in the bowling stakes, these selections made sense.
Thoughts about the mix of bowlers definitely crept into the cerebral, although these were overshadowed by a few factors. Not only was this clearly a game for the batsmen, any nifty Blackcaps overs or deliveries or periods of the bowling innings came via slower balls, spin and variations. Batsmen enjoyed this Mt Maunganui pitch, yet I don't think the little juice in it was truly exploited and this should only be amplified tomorrow for the second game.
Jimmy Neesham, for example posed a threat with his variations that legit moved off the pitch. Ish Sodhi's offies spun and it didn't really matter if he slowed it down or cramped the batsman, or if he bowled his leggies or wrong-o's, he moved the ball. Part of the screw-tightening featured Lockie Ferguson mixing up his deliveries as Sri Lanka needed to up the tempo. Aotearoa won this game in part to Ferguson, Sodhi and Neesham all taking 2 wickets each and not getting spanked via their variations/skill.
Hence, thoughts like 'I dunno if the 1st 11 has both Matt Henry and Ferguson' weren't dwelled on in my mind. Even while Ferguson moved to roll out those variations, Henry bowled a few tight overs around the same time. Ultimately, one (or both) will have to make way in the best 1st 11 World Cup Final team.
Having said a few times prior to this series that Neesham should be largely judged as a batsman who can bowl, this was obviously an interesting performances from Neesham. It was Neesham got took the key wickets of Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka after they laid a fabulous platform, it was also Neesham who best exploited the bowling conditions.
Before that though, Neesham was fizzing via a bunch of sixes to bolster the kiwi innings. Neesham blasted 47 off 13 and the Blackcaps won by 45 runs. While Neesham was blatantly pretty good with the ball, I'm still off the belief that it starts with his batting and Neesham was loving life after that innings.
Sri Lanka won't be keen to let Neesham have that impact with the ball again and they have now felt Neesham's variations, including deliveries where Neesham bowls straight up heat. How Neesham backs this up will be immense in World Cup calculations, along with seeing Neesham batting during the middle stages of the innings. In a swash-bucklin' game, Neesham did his job and the nek level comes as game circumstances change.
Not quite panic stations yet for Colin Munro. I'm on an island here in pondering Munro's future and while three of the top four all passed 50, Munro managed 13 off 14. Remember that context is super important here as Munro is averaging 19.07 since the start of 2018 and that includes 11 of the 14 games during that period, being played in Aotearoa.
Not panic stations, but while Neesham and to a lesser extent Sodhi took this chance to bolster their case, Munro didn't. Nor has he done for a while now and this is the low key narrative to keep a close eye on in the second game.
In all honesty, if Guptill hits 138, Williamson 76 and Taylor 54 with strike-rates around 100, then Trent Boult takes 2w @ 6.50rpo, the Blackcaps should win. Of course we know that Boult took his wickets late in the innings and this wasn't typical swinger Boult nipping a few off early, but from a mere scorecard perspective, all of that is a bloody lovely baseline.
Guppy went big in his comeback game to the point where it's impossible to overlook his effort. For Williamson, Taylor and Boult though, these were efforts that reflected their world-class status and allowed for others to step in with more notable, 'cooler' contributions.
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Peace and love 27.