There is no shortage of T20I fixtures on the menu this summer, which means there will be all sorts of ups and downs to absorb as Aotearoa's Blackcaps try to suss out this T20 thing. The first game against England went in England's favour, rather comprehensively and in making observations about the Blackcaps, there is a fine line to walk in assessing trends while also appreciating the volatility of frequent T20I cricket.
Overall, England were better than the kiwis and at various stages throughout the game, a smidge of frustration appeared to be present from the Blackcaps. They also looked rather flat, kinda with a 'first major game back in the swing of things' vibe. England's bowlers executed clear plans, which I always love and with accuracy combined with changes of pace on a pitch that nibbled at those changes of pace, holding the ball up a wee bit, made hitting difficult for the Blackcaps.
The wizardry of Ross Taylor took the Blackcaps to 153/5 and this was a typically smooth T20I innings from Taylor. Despite a weird commentary mix fiending for boundaries while feasting on their T20 fast food, Taylor obviously had to re-build the innings and take time in doing so on a niggly pitch; which he did and I'd suggest that his role in T20I cricket is to settle the middle overs. Taylor's craft is in rotating the strike, ticking over the scoreboard and hitting boundaries when required, allowing the other batsman to bat freely.
Taylor averages 26.10 in T20I cricket and has averaged 30+ in three of the 13 years he has played T20I. Two of those 30+ years are 2018 and 2019, as part of Taylor's ascension to a even more legendary kiwi sportsman than he was before. This may become more obvious to fans throughout this plethora of T20I cricket in our backyard, for now, just know that I reckon Taylor is Aotearoa's best T20I batsman.
Taylor finished with 44 @ 125.71sr, a hearty anchor innings and Daryl Mitchell was the bloke Taylor freed up, with Mitchell again looking comfortable at this level with 30 @ 176.47. Tim Seifert was the other notable run-scorer, like Mitchell, Seifert simply looks comfy in doing what he does and while Martin Guptill prodded and Colin Munro chucked his bat all over the place, Seifert casually whacked 32 @ 123.07sr.
The bowling performance from Aotearoa was scattered, lacking the ruthlessness of England's plans then execution of plans. Mitchell Santner was the only threat, with 3w @ 5.75rpo and while I'll chuck up some negative trends below, Santner is one of the Blackcaps T20I players who is trucking along nicely. Santner averages 19.75 in T20I and after a dip in his work in 2017 (41.80avg in 8 games) and 2018 (27.85avg in 9 games), Santner has enjoyed a resurgence this year in averaging 15.83 through 8 games. 2019 is also the first year Santner has taken 10+ wickets since 2016 in T20I cricket.
Not quite the same for Santner's Northern Districts Knights homies Ish Sodhi and Scott Kuggeleijn. Sodhi went wicket-less, conceding 9.50rpo in his 4ov and this comes after Sodhi took 1w in 7ov vs Sri Lanka @ 57avg, which amounts to Sodhi averaging 30+ for the second year of his career; 2018 and 2019.
This is a wee narrative to keep tabs on as Sodhi has been a steady presence in the Blackcaps T20I group, although his recent work hasn't quite been as slick as the 2015-2017 period. Kuggeleijn is still trying to settle into his Blackcaps career and got touched up for 11.66rpo off his 3ov, which is aligned with Kuggeleijn's T20I record in Aotearoa where he averages 82 with the ball through 5 games.
Kuggeleijn's campaign in Sri Lanka was nice, with 3w @ 25.33avg in 10v. Outside of that, Kuggeleijn has played the rest of his T20I games in Aotearoa and has just 2w in those 5 games. The ups and downs idea is important to throw up at this point as I'm merely interested in what happens from this juncture, with some concerning trends appearing early in this England series. This allows for time to suss out these issues, however this issues could also fester into something worse.
I'm at that point with Colin Munro as well and Munro gave everyone a tickle by hitting big in the warm up games, which to be straight up felt like standard Munro; he's the domestic cricket bully after all. Munro hit 21 @ 105, the lowest strike-rate of Blackcaps batsmen who faced 10+ balls and that's all good as it was tricky to blaze away early in innings on that deck. Munro never really looked comfortable though and I'm kinda fascinated with how Munro and Sodhi play out this T20I summer considering their dip in performance in this format has been rather low key.
In previewing this series, I mentioned Munro's work in Sri Lanka where he averaged 8.33 in 3 games. Munro's T20I average is 22.50 this year, the first time it has dropped below 33 since 2015 with his annual strike-rate the lowest it's been during that period as well. England's ploy wasn't exactly new to Munro as we have seen other high-quality teams execute mission 'cramp him up' where little width is offered, in conjunction with a variety of slower balls.
Aotearoa were clearly off in the first T20I vs England. The summer starts 0-1 in this format and we slide over to game two, knowing that the Blackcaps aren't the type of team who crumble in consecutive games. The Blackcaps tend to sort out issues, re-assess and bounce back, which is what we'll be watching for come Sunday arvo.
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Peace and love 27.