Aotearoa's Blackcaps have emerged from their 'easing in' period of the World Cup with three wins from three games, successfully easing into their campaign after a third win over Afghanistan. Two clear trends have emerged from the three games; Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor scoring the runs, while the wickets are shared by a versatile bowling attack. Throw into the intrigue mixer that the Blackcaps have chased in all three games, meaning we are yet to see them set a target and it's still niggly to genuinely assess where the Blackcaps are at.
Chasing 173 against Afghanistan, Martin Guptill got a quacker and Colin Munro worked his way to 22 off 24 balls. If you thought that Guptill and Munro would be licking their lips after their dismantling of Sri Lanka's bowling attack, knowing that they would come up against two fairly similar bowling attacks, it hasn't quite panned out that way. Keep in mind that Rashid Khan wasn't in action for Afghanistan and now we don't really know what kind of form the two openers are carrying into the main course.
We know that Williamson and Taylor are alright. Williamson has 119 runs from 2 innings and Taylor has 130 runs from his 2inns, which is the perfect start for such key batsmen. The only thought here is that we'd rather rely on these two to get runs against the big dawgs, hoping that others would step up against the slightly weaker teams. To counter that though, Williamson and Taylor have twice stopped the flow of wickets, halting a heap of momentum that Bangladesh and Afghanistan earned.
The first three games have done little to fill the jug with confidence about what the entire Blackcaps batting unit can do. It would be lovely to see different blokes scoring runs ... and not chucking their opportunity away, but the Blackcaps have been dished up the same scenario three times in a row in terms of their batting innings.
With the ball, it's been completely different as Matt Henry had two delightful games, then Jimmy Neesham enjoyed a Taunton pitch with more bounce to take 5w @ 3.10rpo. Last time I put a low key focus on Lockie Ferguson, who was simmering beneath Henry and he also commanded attention with 4w @ 4.03rpo vs Afghanistan.
Right now, the three leading wicket-takers are Blackcaps; Ferguson with 8w @ 12.37avg, Henry with 7w @ 18avg and Neesham is the best of the five bowlers who have 6w, averaging 12.66. Trent Boult has been pretty damn steady without the abundance of wickets and Tim Southee has been low on ODI form for a while, but no one would have thought that if three Blackcaps bowers led all wicket-takers at this World Cup, neither Boult nor Southee would feature there.
That offers us a great point from which we can look forward from as we will now see which of those three bowlers can kick on and stay among the best World Cup bowlers. Maybe Southee is injected into the team and goes bonkers, maybe Boult hits some form or maybe we are watching the legit emergence of Henry or Ferguson as a breakout star of this World Cup. How these bowling pieces come together, from this point is going to be fascinating.
Neesham? Attacking batsmen on a bouncier deck than usual, plays into Neesham's skillset nicely and I doubt many of the Afghan batsmen would have faced Neesham before. That is to say that I'm leaning towards this being a high water mark for Neesham's bowling, most evident in the fact that Neesham was given the ball early in the innings to exploit those conditions.
I have no doubt that Neesham will chime in with crucial wickets, if the Blackcaps do get on a roll of wins. I don't believe such wicket-taking is sustainable for Neesham as the quality of opposition increases, although it doesn't need to be and with Neesham getting a dose of confidence, he's in a nice spot to contribute with those few wickets here, few wickets there.
Much of the weirdness sits in the absences of Southee and Nicholls. All that uncertainty about team selection and combinations heading into the World Cup, hasn't been solved and has instead morphed into this situation with Southee and Nicholls. There is a very strong case to be made that the team from the first three games, is the 1st 11 and the level below that is to say that it would be difficult to change a winning team knowing that there will be a step up in opposition.
It would be very, very awkward to suddenly bring in Nicholls as an opener ahead of Munro after those three games. Munro at least deserves a crack against India and the middle order hasn't had enough to do for someone to lose their spot to Nicholls.
There's little case to be made for Southee coming in for either Henry or Ferguson, considering their standing in the World Cup so far. Mitchell Santner didn't even bowl today and Ish Sodhi may as well be in that same bracket as Southee and Nicholls as he's a viable option depending on conditions, but again, based on the three games we have seen, it would be awkward to drop anyone.
I'll come back with some preview thoughts for this game vs India overnight Thursday, for now we are in an exciting but weird spot. The Blackcaps have won their first three games of the World Cup and yet we are none the wiser as to the best combinations and true scope of what this team could do. That's what you get from an opening stanza featuring three games against the weaker sub-continent teams and while there's an immense job done vibe from that stanza, shit is about to get real.
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