There is no plan or script that the Aotearoa vs India World Cup semi-final can fit into, yet in a freestyle sense, everything fell beautifully in favour of the Blackcaps snatching victory. After a take a break to let nature juice the pitch up in Manchester, Aotearoa's strongest attribute in their seam bowling gang armed up with swing, seam and accuracy to suss out India's stacked batting line up.
It was Virat Kohli who predicted prior to this World Cup, that as the tournament wore on, scores around the 250 mark would be difficult to deal with. Although scores around 300 appear to be the norm, conditions and World Cup pressure can change context around such innings and to have the ability to effectively isolate an innings - knowing that you just gotta do a job with the ball - fell in favour of Aotearoa. Trent Boult and Matt Henry were graced with everything they needed to be legit factors, do what they do best in nipping the ball around and as cricket always reminds us; is bloody tough to bat against international bowlers moving the ball around.
The circumstance also played into a vibe that has been somewhat annoying throughout the World Cup. The kiwi sporting landscape is littered with teams that don't quite know their identity and this is reflected in their mediocrity, while the Blackcaps have worked incredibly hard to find, nail down and then develop their identity through personnel changes. This isn't the aggressive and funky Blackcaps team from the last World Cup, this is a more mellow unit with a tool belt full of different skills for whatever the game throws up.
Both versions or identities are equally as kiwi as the other, obviously led by the vibe of Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson. In other moments in this World Cup, this Blackcaps group felt a bit passive and if this semi-final was played in different conditions etc, perhaps the style of cricket played by the Blackcaps would have been exposed.
4 wickets in the first 10 overs though and suddenly Mitchell Santner's economical bowling takes on a different threat. Santner is not an attacking spinner, he's at his best when allowed to bowl dot balls and build pressure, which came on a pitch that offered enough nibble for Santner's tweakers to add a different wrinkle. Hence Santner took more than 1 wicket for the first time in this World Cup as the screws turned.
Turning the screws is something this Blackcaps group does very well, when the opportunity is presented. Such is the identity, culture, vibe of the Blackcaps, that Martin Guptill broke out of his glum funk from his batting innings to show up and lead the fielding effort and whether it was blokes diving around to stop runs, Jimmy Neesham snaring a lovely grab or Guptill with an equally as massive run-out of MS Dhoni; Aotearoa turned a screw any chance they could get.
How the Blackcaps attacked their stint with the bat was also notable. Boundaries didn't exactly flow like you'd expect, the Blackcaps merely hit gaps and run hard in typical kiwi fashion to gather singles and two's. Crafty shit from the kiwis and while it only took them up to 239/8, the Blackcaps could sense that such a mid-range total would be super niggly and this also set the tone for the day as the Blackcaps made solid reads and executed everything to a decent standard.
Early wickets was always going to be mandatory for victory. Boult moved one into Virat Kohli's front pad and while there's nothing out of the ordinary with what the Blackcaps do under Williamson, he's a shrewd bugger. Williamson and Boult plugged mid-wicket for Kohli, brought third-man up and with Boult moving the ball, they slid the responsibility back on to Kohli to suss out scoring options early in his innings.
Henry? This is a bloke who took 75 wickets in 11 games @ 15.48avg last year for Kent in the County Championship. Henry did so in Division Two, which doesn't quite have the same batting quality as Division One and is a wee bit different to bowling vs India in a World Cup semi, but the point here is about conditions. Steaming in to target off-stump as Henry did, in England is going to lead to wickets unless England is going through an abnormally dry, hot summer.
There is still a need for Henry to be accurate and this could be viewed as a reflection of the Blackcaps as Henry was low key aggressive, like the Blackcaps turning the screws. We've seen aggressive, overtly attacking bowling in this World Cup where bowlers went short and another nuance of that is seeing the movement on offer and over-pitching, seduced by the swing. Henry though, zoned in on the top of off-stump and forced the Indian batsmen to play at most deliveries, allowing for seam and swing to then create mistakes.
When you consider that Williamson and Taylor scored the runs, then the new-ball did the bulk of the job, this was peak Blackcaps. Some may view that as being limiting and by no means is this Blackcaps team a group of cricketers who are all sizzling, individuals performing at their potential to trouble the star power of their opponents. Nah, this is a Blackcaps team that still relies on two legendary batsmen and crafty bowling.
What the Blackcaps do have though is a group that will do their best in any circumstance, a group that knows that each bloke can contribute at any moment. This was a beautifully kiwi performance and to execute in such a game is pretty damn clutch. Regardless of their opponent for the final, or any perceived limitations of this squad, the Blackcaps are equipped to churn out a solid performance and sometimes being tough to defeat can lead to great wins.
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Peace and love 27.