Two big games with the World Cup hitting a nek level and two losses for Aotearoa's Blackcaps as Australia gave the kiwis a hiding. Pakistan cruised to victory against the Blackcaps which spooked the kiwis into changes and some weird tactics vs Australia, although the Blackcaps still sit nicely in the semi-final bracket for now.
Batting first, Australia withstood the onslaught from Aotearoa's best bowlers to then grind their way to a competitive total. Alex Carey received plenty of churs for his attacking ability on a tricky pitch, however the innings of Usman Khawaja is what caught my eye as Khawaja's 88 (68.21sr) set the innings up for Carey and Pat Cummins to attack. Or more notably, Khawaja played the innings that Aotearoa has been sniffing around, looking for at this World Cup.
Not only do Australia have David Warner and Aaron Finch sitting in 1st and 2nd for total runs, Khawaja is chillin' in 12th with two 50+ knocks. That gives Australia three batsmen in the upper echelon of run-scoring and the grit to ensure Australia's innings didn't collapse, would have been nice in the kiwi batting line up.
All out for 157 and little substance from the Blackcaps. Despite some weird decisions with the use of bowlers, restricting Australia to 243 from 50 overs is a solid result and something that this batting unit could have piggy-backed from, gaining confidence and catching the vibe. All out for 157 though and it was the same old story for Martin Guptill, Henry Nicholls and Tom Latham, only that this time, Williamson and Ross Taylor couldn't go large.
Where to begin?
What my Monday morning noggin keeps coming back to, is that this could be all good. If the cookie crumbles in favor of Aotearoa, then Guppy could bang a century in the semi-final and Latham steers the Blackcaps through the middle stages with an onslaught from Jimmy Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme and Mitchell Santner.
Or maybe de Grandhomme takes a 5-for, Santner manages a wicket or two and Ish Sodhi goes super-clutch mode to step up in a semi-final. As annoying as this Blackcaps stuff is and tends to always be, there is a decent chance that none of it really matters and maybe the Blackcaps have been fine-tuning their ability to hit the nek level in the most important fixtures since the last World Cup.
Keep all that in mind. But there are some clear holes, or perhaps just confusing shit that doesn't make a whole lot of sense and ... welcome to writing about the Blackcaps. Ever since Williamson took over as skipper, there has been constant whispers about his captaincy that never became more than whispers because Williamsons the mantis and he's learning the job at this level. Of course, Williamson can still lead the Blackcaps to World Cup glory, but his bowling rotations are a bit strange and even stinkier is that this team has understandably become to resemble Williamson a whole lot more than any slither of B-Mac's presence.
The thing is that I don't know if Williamson's use of bowlers is because of him over-thinking matters or just being weird. If operating with clarity and being somewhat aggressive, Williamson would have opted for more wickets after that great start and instead, talking in the post-match press conference, Williamson outlined how the match ups didn't favour certain bowlers; the best option was Williamson's offies.
Right now we have the cool, but not ideal scenario of Williamson bowling more overs in the last two games (15ov) than Santner (13ov), Neesham (9ov) and then Sodhi who got through just 6ov against Australia. This is just weird and it can't be seen as a terrible move given that Williamson took 1w @4.87rpo vs Pakistan, then 1w @ 3.57rpo vs Australia, while Sodhi and Santner were both expensive without wickets vs Australia.
It was clear that Williamson was seduced by the spinning deck vs Pakistan and a similar pitch that offered a wee bit of juice, again saw Williamson step up. This in itself is all good, just weird when you wonder what Sodhi and Santner are up to when they see their part-time tweaking skipper take on the bulk of the spin responsibilities. Sodhi was selected in this game to bowl 6ov and it feels more logical, if you've randomly selected Sodhi to make his World Cup debut at this stage, to let him free and give him reps.
What have you got to lose? Give the tandem of Sodhi and Santner time to work together, suss out how they are going to counter batsmen who sweep them and prepare them for knockout cricket. I just don't really understand not selecting a player for the whole tournament, then selecting him to bowl 6ov. The vibe here, is super reactionary and there is little about this Blackcaps team that takes the game to their opposition to try and dictate antics.
Take the yarn about not bringing Trent Boult back into the attack to suss out the Australian middle order. You're reacting to the situation, sure, but you're coming out with an intent to dictate how they next stanza of the game goes. Instead, Williamson sees a pitch offering some spin and his spinners aren't doing the 'safe' job of containment, so Williamson turns to himself.
Even more poignant to me was the reaction to the Pakistan loss, which caused a few changes. Changes that only came after a loss, despite the awkward timing as the tournament heats up and changes that could be have been sussed out earlier in the tournament (or prior to the tournament). Suddenly a new playing 11 has to figure out how to deal with Australia.
Henry Nicholls has to come in and deal with the best seam attack in this World Cup. Timely reminder that Nicholls could have very easily opened in the first game of the World Cup, especially considering that the last ODI series prior tot he World Cup was the Bangladesh series in which Nicholls dabbled in top-order batting. We would all love for Nicholls to slide in with ease, bang a nice score and showcase his class. Realistically, in a World Cup, against Australia, that's fucking hard to do.
Which comes back around to the planning, preparation and setting players up for success idea that has plagued our insights of the Blackcaps. No idea about what the best opening combo is, no idea who the best spinner is or what their job is and a certain level of passive safety-first vibes that holds everything back.
And players not performing. This clouds the judgements of Williamson and also coach Gary Stead as all these types of decisions are slightly easier if players brought runs and wickets with them to England.
Martin Guptill: 158 run @ 26.33avg (high score 73*).
Tom Latham: 41 runs @ 8.20avg.
Mitchell Santner: 3w @ 71avg.
Colin de Grandhomme has no wicket in his last 2inns and when Aotearoa needed de Grandhomme to play the role of solid middle-order batsman, Mr whack whack obviously had to give it a whack. Adding to the shenanigans is that neither Nicholls or Sodhi took their opportunity (not surprising). That now brings up fresh selection weirdness because Colin Munro and Matt Henry don't exactly deserve to come straight back in, but Nicholls and Sodhi don't exactly deserve to hold on to their spot.
Losing two games in a row, heading into what should hopefully be some semi-final cricket, isn't good. Alone, it's not terrible though and this little dose of reality was always going to come around. Both losses have seen some strong performances from Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson and while both losses have low key come without runs of Williamson and Taylor, at least Jimmy Neesham went large vs Pakistan. That is to say that these losses haven't been because the Blackcaps suck and they've done alright in both games.
Both losses have however, exposed weak foundations. At this stage of the World Cup, whether it's selections or the inconvenient slumps of numerous players with bat and ball, it's just awkward and weird. What does tickle my tastebuds though is the 'step up' nature of this upcoming game vs England, hopefully beyond.
Blackcaps cricket has enjoyed a fairly cosy ride in kiwi summers, perhaps offering an illusion of what some Blackcaps are genuinely capable of on the world stage. This is where we learn who are our cricketing stars, who are how cricketing heroes and what kiwi cricket is all about.
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Peace and love 27.