The hope remains after Aotearoa crawled their way to 211/5 vs India in the World Cup semi-final with play to start again tonight. Despite all the positive vibes, status-quo continued for Blackcaps openers Martin Guptill and Henry Nicholls, meaning that Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor were again asked to lead this Blackcaps batting outfit.
Previewing this contest, I offered the idea of assuming that Williamson and Taylor wouldn't score runs, so who else would? This was more an exercise to suss out the other batsmen and how they may contribute, less of a prediction and unfortunately for the Blackcaps, no other batsman has bothered to offer any assistance to the legends of Taylor and Williamson.
Guptill is currently living out of form and as I explored in this Guppy yarn, he is exploring all options of being dismissed. This time around, it was a conventional dismissal, although the type of dismissal that is a key identifier of a batsman who has been zapped of all confidence and batsmanship.
The word that comes to mind here is 'fiddle'. Jasprit Bumrah has been exceptional for a while now (ODI average of 21.71) and as delightful as his angle in, nip away at hostile pace is, Guptill's fiddling at a delivery he should have no business getting amongst:
That's what happens when you are out of form and unfortunately, there's a fair amount of technical stuff wrong with Guppy's shot. Kinda getting squared up, both feet pointing down the pitch and a front elbow that sits at 2 o'clock instead of closer to 12 o'clock, all influencing the gap between bat and Guptill's body.
Mr Nicholls missed a delivery he probably should have got some bat on. Ravi Jadeja is bowling lefty spin into Nicholls and numerous deliveries before this saw Nicholls work them into the leg-side, or find the inside of the bat; Nicholls knows the ball is coming into him and that Jadeja's attacking his stumps.
And yet Nicholls is looking for a delivery to slide closer to off-stump. Big gap between bat and pad, which is why I'm throwing these examples up as both Guptill and Nicholls' dismissals feature gaps between bat and pad/body. Nicholls is stuck in a hole, not quite as big a hole as Guptill but with 36 runs in 3inns @ 12avg, the Nicholls opening experiment has failed to this point.
At this World Cup...
Kane Williamson: 8inns, 548 runs @ 91.33avg/76.32sr.
Ross Taylor: 8inns, 328 runs @ 46.85avg/76.45sr.
Since January 1st, 2018, Williamson is averaging 55.44 and that's up from his career average of 48.04. Taylor is averaging 70.90 during this period, up from his career average of 48.28. These two guys are amazing and Aotearoa wouldn't be in this semi-final without them, nor would they have salvaged a respectable score without them in this game as they faced a niggly task on a pitch that favoured India's bowlers.
If Jimmy Neesham or Colin de Grandhomme had applied themselves a bit further, Aotearoa would be in a slightly strong position with one of them coming out for a whack on day two. Not that anyone would have known how things would play out though, so whatever and the job now falls on Taylor who is not-out on 67 and Tom Latham on 3*.
De Grandhomme has twice been dismissed trying to ramp slower balls, which is very weird.
All of which, leads us to the bowlers and how they are going to approach day two. Rain and moisture suits the kiwi seamers, plus they have clarity in what needs to be done with a little more insight gained on pitch conditions. Obviously a target closer to 250 will be ideal, regardless of what the Blackcaps end up with though, they will need wickets desperately and to do so will require some kahunas to pitch the ball up.
Aotearoa has opted for the seam attack of Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson and Matt Henry. They will be joined by de Grandhomme and Neesham, all of whom could offer some sort of spice in favourable conditions. I suspect Mitchell Santner will have less of an influence, even though conditions could offer some spin as we saw this morning as swing and seam will be the likeliest option to take Indian wickets.
I pondered which batsmen would stand up to help Williamson and Taylor, hitting a nek level and grabbing on to the opportunity of becoming a kiwi cricket legend. None of the batsmen wanted that honour and now it's flipped to the bowlers to enjoy such an exciting opportunity. Boult could make an undeniable case for greatest ever honours, Ferguson has been simmering all World Cup and wickets vs India would be icing on his Cup cake, while Henry has been known as an underground ODI gun without really doing anything with it.
These three will lead the charge and the Henry/Ferguson duo are where I'm focused. They have the biggest opportunity of the kiwi bowlers and greatness beckons ... if they want it.
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Peace and love 27.