After many odd selections and then little to no actual World Cup preparation, Aotearoa's Blackcaps begin their World Cup warm up phase this weekend. A game against India, followed by West Indies a few days later is likely to offer minimal insight into the Blackcaps World Cup hopes but these games will set the scene for how the Blackcaps could emerge as a dark horse contender.
A clear trend has emerged for ODI cricket played in England and while England lead the way, every World Cup team will have confidence in their ability to score 300+ runs in an innings. Some, like to celebrate Aotearoa's involvement in how England became that type of team, however we have gone so far beyond that now, to the point where this World Cup is all about the 300 run mark.
England just played a series against Pakistan in which of the four completed games, all but one innings featured a 300+ score and that lone innings was Pakistan dismissed for 297. England's Royal London One-Day Cup consistently featured innings of 300+ and when that is the new benchmark, the battle between bat and ball takes on a new level of intrigue.
International batsmen are always going to back their ability to score 300+, or bat with strike-rates over 100. The main decision with regards to the Blackcaps batting line up is who opens the innings alongside Martin Guptill and this will dictate how the Blackcaps go about scoring at the required rate. Because of this, I can see the Blackcaps playing with Colin Munro and that presents a niggly situation where Munro's selection isn't based on form but more on fear; spooked by all these 300+ scores.
I won't go deep into this rabbit hole, but a huge issue for me is the idea of Indian Premier League being the main preparation for many of these Blackcaps. Different format in very different conditions means that there is little to gauge from IPL form and that may be a good thing for Munro as he played four IPL games with scores of 40, 3, 14 and 27. If Munro is the opener, the Blackcaps will be blasting early to jump ahead of the run-rate and dictate the flow of the game ... Munro opening won't fill kiwi cricket fans with any confidence though.
Alternatively, Henry Nicholls could open and this would signal a more steady approach. We have seen very little of Nicholls opening, which is an issue in itself and if Nicholls is opening, then a whole lot of responsibility falls with Guptill. Guptill's opening partner, will likely dictate how Guptill plays. Guptill is also coming off the great IPL preparation of three games and scores of 15, 30, 36.
However this opening duo ends up, it's difficult to fancy the chances of the Blackcaps consistently hitting 300+ against the best bowling attacks in the world. We may see who is the more favourable opening partner in the two warm up games and the fact that the Blackcaps don't have a certified opening duo, is a major problem when pondering how the batting line up can compete.
I'm far more interested in the bowlers at this World Cup, because the expectation of 300+ scores can be countered by exceptional bowlers rising to the occasion. Do the Blackcaps have a bowling combination that can stop teams scoring 300+?
If conditions are favourable, as they are in Aotearoa, then sure. English conditions tend to be rather similar to those in Aotearoa, however scores tend to consistently be up around 300 in England and that's probably not because these pitches are helping bowlers. For whatever reason, the fascination with runs over wickets, has led to flat decks being labelled 'good pitches' and this means that the effectiveness of Trent Boult and Tim Southee will be super intriguing.
Matt Henry is the underground king and even his skillset, requires nibble off the deck. While I'm kinda negative about the batting prospects, mainly the opening duo, I'm more open minded about this Boult, Southee, Henry trio. Boult and Southee have long been known as two of the best bowlers in the world and for the Blackcaps to be a factor at this World Cup, these two need to tap into that world class potential. If Southee is out of favour, then Henry has to prove that he can rise to the occasion.
A Blackcaps bowling attack of Boult, Southee, Henry, Mitchell Santner, Colin de Grandhomme and Jimmy Neesham feels seriously underwhelming. Ish Sodhi and Lockie Ferguson offer the x-factor required to take wickets and thus slow the flow of runs, however neither is a selection certainty. Just like the lack of clarity around the opening combination this close to the World Cup, the lack of clarity around the strongest bowling attack, is ... annoying.
Exciting as well though. There is a chance for one or two Blackcaps bowlers to step up, whether it's the leaders in Boult or Southee, or one of the other bowlers who can perform at the highest level and introduce themselves to the cricketing world. To stop teams scoring 300+, the Blackcaps will need two bowlers to hit a nek level.
As you may be able to feel, I'm not overly positive about the Blackcaps World Cup hopes, nor the state of cricket in Aotearoa. This isn't anything new and the Niche Cache has been highlighting fairly obvious flaws in kiwi cricket since the last World Cup, the type of flaws that the mainstream media don't recognise to protect their comfy relationship with NZC.
What we have heading into this World Cup, is the possibility of an almighty low for kiwi cricket. NZC continue to slip up in supporting domestic cricket and putting kiwi cricket in the best position for success to flow into Blackcaps and White Ferns, while the White Ferns have taken some dramatic steps backwards over the past 12 months. If the Blackcaps are mediocre at this World Cup, as they were at the Champions Trophy two years ago, we will be dealing with a crisis.
The Blackcaps can salvage things for NZC with a strong World Cup. Nothing about the preparation for this World Cup suggests that though and against this backdrop, with the scene set, we move into an incredibly important World Cup for Aotearoa.
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Peace and love 27.