It happened again. The ball swung. it moved. All those memories of the 2015 World Cup came crashing back. They crashed into the Bangladesh batting lineup. Once again, Tim Southee and Trent Boult were leaving the batsmen clueless and disorientated. The white ball they use in limited overs cricket nowadays does not aid swing like before but on Friday, the conditions in Cardiff were ripe for it.
Before the match, Boult had expressed his disappointment. The Kiwi bowling attack had been divested of what sets it apart.
In the country, yeah, you would think it would swing around a little bit. It’s been very cold. I don’t think it is a technical thing from my point of view or from any of the bowlers, but looking across, no one’s really swung the ball as we have seen in the past; example of the World Cup a couple years ago… You would like to see the ball banana-ing around, especially at the top of the innings.
But it would not and the bowlers were left searching other ways to pick up wickets. Southee had seemingly taken the worst end of the stick. After the 2015 World Cup, he had picked up only 26 wickets in 24 ODIs at a remarkably poor average of 46.42. Without swing, one wondered if Southee could be effective.
But when it exists, he can be deadly. So in the space of 15 deliveries, Southee picked up three wickets on Friday. The ball swung into Tamim Iqbal and Soumya Sarkar; it left Sabbir Rahman hanging, unable to do anything as it kissed the edge of his bat. This was the Southee who had tormented batsmen at the 2015 World Cup. Funnily enough, Bangladesh did not bear the brunt back then as it managed the highest score against the Kiwis in group matches. But on Friday, the Tigers had a full-blown experience of how it would have been.
There were 48 dot balls in the first ten overs as Boult kept pressure at the other end. He could have picked up a few wickets himself but it was enough to give the feeling that the Kiwis were on their way to a comfortable victory. Southee bowled seven overs straight, in search of a final knockout blow.
As Boult had said ahead of the encounter, early wickets could set the match up so the bowlers would “love to come hard at the top order.” However, what to do when it stops swinging? Boult seemingly had a plan in mind for himself and his teammates.
I guess not just myself but the rest of the bowlers on our side, the swing bowlers generally, like to exploit anything out of the air. I guess there’s a little bit of the ability to just try seaming the ball. But when it is not seaming and swinging, obviously we need to look at different measures. I suppose once the opposition starts coming at us, giving more chances, that is when we can kind of cash in.
Now we all know how that went. From 33 for four, Bangladesh recovered and fought back. But no chances arrived. New Zealand got very little to cash in. In the end, it was their Champions Trophy campaign which became the casualty.
So, where did it all go wrong? The Kiwi bowling effort was symptomatic of the problems afflicting this side. The contribution by senior players is not backed up by others. Once Boult and Southee finished their initial spell, Bangladesh found life a whole lot easier.
Although the ball did not swing much then, there was still enough life in the pitch to ask questions. Even if the bowlers could not exploit it, the objective should have been to deny cheap runs. Of course, Adam Milne has been the exception in this tournament. But James Neesham and Corey Anderson demonstrated an obsession with bowling short. This allowed Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah to fetch boundaries when they were badly needed.
The medium pacers’s failure to trouble the batsmen forced Kane Williamson into desperate measures like bringing himself on to bowl. It was a bad move which only exacerbated the situation. The need of the moment was to seek wickets; Williamson could have shut one side of the field off by loading it with fielders in a 6-3 or 7-2 set up, limiting the batsmen’s options for run scoring. But it all remained very easy for Bangladesh and defeat became inevitable.
It was a frustrating experience for the New Zealand camp but not altogether unfamiliar: the side’s batting collapses in this tournament have led to much head-shaking and hand-wringing. After losing seven for 37 against Australia, the Kiwis could manage only eight for 65 in the clash with England. On Friday, five batsmen were dismissed for 51 runs as another opportunity for a score in the excess of 300 was foregone.
The issue once again rested with Neesham and Anderson, along with Neil Broom. Coming in to bat from positions five to seven, the trio combined for 126 runs in nine innings. The individual score of 18 was crossed only twice, by Neesham and Broom on Friday. They looked clueless for the most part. In the slog overs when sides usually accelerate run-making, the Kiwis did not have a boundary for 37 balls against Bangladesh.
This meant that the base laid by Williamson and Ross Taylor was not exploited by the later batsmen. It is a measure of the cloudy plans, which afflict New Zealand at the moment, that Luke Ronchi was asked to open days before the Champions Trophy. He could have been a useful asset in the lower middle order; Tom Latham, a designated opener, did not even get a look in any of the matches.
With the next 50-over World Cup to be played in England two years from now, New Zealand has been left with plenty to ponder. Becoming the first side to exit the Champions Trophy is not catastrophic but the Kiwis need to come out of the shadow of the 2015 World Cup. As the conditions in Cardiff showed, there exist a different set of challenges for Williamson and his players. And sometimes, a victory is not certain even when the ball swings.