Variety is the spice of life and with that in mind, this Blackcaps 3-0 ODI series sweep over Sri Lanka was about as mundane as a butter chicken with garlic naan. There was a tickle of funk in the third ODI with different contributions and the manner in which these contributions came as Ross Taylor and Henry Nicholls hit classy centuries, Lockie Ferguson and Ish Sodhi churned out impressive bowling displays and Kane Williamson flexed as Aotearoa's leading all-rounder.
That's exactly like butter chicken though; it's kinda adventurous, but the most mundane of foreign munchies us kiwis love to enjoy. For the third game in a row, the Blackcaps batted first and hit 300+ and then despite Sri Lanka flirting with being competitive, a superior Blackcaps bowling attack eventually found a way to reject any competitive vibes.
The batting starts with King Rossco. There is no shortage of statistical pleasure stemming from Ross Taylor's run-scoring in this series and this nifty streak of runs that he's on - no doubt if you're reading this then you are a cricket freak and know that Taylor has scored 50+ in his last 6inns, he's now hit 20 centuries and what not. Allow me to stretch this out a bit further though...
King Rossco's scores since the start of 2017
vs Australia: 16, 107.
vs South Africa: 1, 102*, 18, 66, 8.
vs Ireland: 52.
vs Bangladesh: 25.
vs Ireland: 57.
vs Bangladesh: 60*.
vs Australia: 46.
vs England: 39.
vs Bangladesh: 63.
vs India: 95, 21, 39.
vs West Indies: 49*, 57, 47*.
vs Pakistan: 12, 45*, 52, 1, 59.
vs England: 113, 10, 181*.
vs Pakistan: 80, 86*.
vs Sri Lanka: 54, 90, 137.
All up, since the start of 2017, Taylor has played 34 games and scored 1888 runs @ 72.61avg. This feels and obviously is, so much more than a cool little streak of 50+ scores for Taylor and is more a case of Taylor firmly establishing himself as Aotearoa’s greatest ODI batsman. During this period, Taylor has averaged over 50 against a fair number of nations; Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, Ireland, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and West Indies. That doesn't include Taylor averaging 48.75 vs South Africa.
Everyone would expect Taylor to be emphatic in Aotearoa and averaging 76.56 in Aotearoa since the start of 2017 is emphatic. Taylor also averages 49.33 in England, 51.66 in India, 64.66 in Ireland and 166 in United Arab Emirates. This period has seen Taylor play under Kane Williamson (42 games) and Tom Latham (7) as captains; he is now averaging 67.34 under Williamson.
There are couple names you can throw up as being crucial to the Blackcaps' World Cup chances, yet none more so than Taylor. The hopes of a nation rest - to some extent - on Taylor's shoulders and this, along with the vibe of simply wanting the best for Taylor at all times, makes for exciting times as a Taylor and Blackcaps fanboy.
And Taylor played a back of the bat shot in his knock yesterdays. Lovely.
Don't sleep on Williamson either, as he hit two 50+ scores in this series and simply keeps on truckin'. In this series, the commentator talked a lot about sacrificing your wicket for the greater good - whether pushing for a sketchy two or taking a risk to maintain the run-rate - and Williamson's dismissal in the third game was exactly that. Some muppet from the Channel One news described Williamson's dismissal as a 'brain explosion' and that's just weird; not only was Williamson taking risks to push the run-scoring along, he had gone aerial in delightful fashion a few times previously.
This is Williamson. The ultimate bro and someone who has the ability to fiddle with his craft to suit whatever the innings and team requires.
In more general terms, perhaps the best thingy to takeaway from this series is that Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Williamson and Taylor all scored runs and other than Munro perhaps falling off a run-scoring cliff, these four are locked in. That's a nice feeling, even more so considering that regardless of what happens vs India, the Blackcaps head into a World Cup with Guptill, Williamson and Taylor all in their prime batting years.
The curveball, or doosra (permanent change in lingo alert for regular readers) comes with Henry Nicholls continuing to impress. 124 off 80 in the third ODI, with an immense strike-rate of 155 was the climax of Nicholls' ODI career thus far and this felt like him announcing his arrival as an international white-ball cricketer.
The thing is that this series saw Nicholls bumped up to #5, with his homie Tom Latham not in the squad as Tim Seifert took on wicket-keeping duties. #5 is the spot where Latham had previously impressed, sliding down from the opening role to lend his batting craft to the middle overs and now we sit in a spot where Latham hasn't done anything wrong, but could be on the outer.
What skews matters even further is how this series played out and I still believe there is value in having Latham there for different circumstances. In minor moments the Blackcaps batting line up was put under pressure, yet very minor moments and with all due respect to Sri Lanka, their bowling was a wee bit trash. New kiwi batsmen would come to the crease and were gifted a range of deliveries to score off, which on reasonably slick batting decks was a recipe for disaster.
Latham could be better equipped for when times are tough during the middle stages and not once did I think 'times are tough' during the middle stages of these Blackcaps innings. Nicholls did nothing wrong and overall, he was tasked with maintaining the run-rate in fairly easy conditions (via nature and tame bowling), but Latham's done nothing wrong either.
The doosra becomes a Murali special when we consider than Jimmy Neesham and to a lesser extent Tim Seifert also took their opportunities. Neesham showcased boundary hitting and also crafty batting, while Seifert's energy as wicket-keeper feel infectious. I don't think it's possible to have Nicholls, Neesham, Seifert and Latham in the same team (as long as Guppy and Munro are opening), raising interesting conundrums for coach Gaz.
With this in mind, there appears to be little hope for someone like Corey Anderson and then BJ Watling - was in the UAE ODI squad remember? Anderson, along with the likes of Mitchell Santner and Todd Astle have all-round value, however there isn't much room in that middle order right now and as I'll explore in the bowlers debrief; there ain't as much room in the bowling group as some would think.
All up, Aotearoa did the job vs Sri Lanka. Guys took their opportunities with the willow and I'd make a special note of Munro and Neesham as lads who at the very least extended their 'opportunity window' to the India series. Other than that, I'm very cautious considering that the Blackcaps didn't chase a target and also faced a bowling attack that will not make any waves at the World Cup.
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Peace and love 27.