It is semi-final time and we are all set for a clash between England and New Zealand tonight night in Delhi -- two teams that really couldn’t be more different.
Everyone loves New Zealand’s cricket team. They are like Ferris Bueller in the classic 1980s film about his day off from school. Principal Ed Rooney’s assistant Grace could have been describing New Zealand when she talks about Ferris:
“Oh, they are very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads -- they all adore them. They think they are righteous dudes.”
Even now Brendon McCullum, everyone’s favourite nice guy, is gone they are still #TotesAdorbs. They play cricket the right way, hard but fair. They have shown that a team doesn’t have to be full of fevered egos and snarling macho men to be successful. As they go into the semi-finals they are the only team to have remained undefeated through the group stage, and in truth no one has come close to them although Australia did give them a real scare.
How they have done that is interesting, and is a testament to both Kane Williamson as a captain and Mike Hesson as a coach.
They have judged conditions to absolute perfection. In their first match against India they left out Trent Boult and Tim Southee, their new-ball attack in Tests that is feared and admired around the world. Twitter exploded with consternation at the idea of the Black Caps going into this massive fixture with the tournament hosts without their frontline seamers.
But Williamson and Hesson knew. They saw that the pitch in Nagpur was dry, dusty and begging to have spinners bowl on it. As the three New Zealand spinners claimed nine wickets in 11 overs for the cost of 29 runs, you could only shake your head in admiration at the brilliance of the think tank.
All three of their spinners have a bowling average of under-10 and an economy rate of less than a run-a-ball. They are yet to concede more than 158 in an innings, and that came in a game where they had batted first and made 180. They are in the semi-finals because of their bowlers, and if they go on and win the whole thing it will be because of them as well.
Then we come to England. This current group of players are actually quite likeable, especially a side that is shorn of James Anderson and Stuart Broad who are both capable of having a strop that would make a toddler blush.
Compared to the posturing and arrogant bunch of men who were losing the Ashes 0-5 in 2013-14 this lot are a real dream. But they are England, and if this were a John Hughes high school comedy made in the mid-1980s England would be the self-aggrandising jock dating the pretty cheerleader. Some would even go so far as to say England resemble the despicable Edward Rooney, Ferris’s nemesis, but that would probably be unfair.
Everyone hates them, and even this group of likable young men isn’t going to change the history that has made every fan that supports a team other than them enjoying watching them lose.
This New Zealand vs England semi-final is probably about as close as we will get to good vs evil in the cricketing world, but even away from the differing attitudes towards the two teams, there is the differing approach. While New Zealand’s success has been all about the ball, England are about batting, batting and batting.
The one game that they lost in the group stage was against the West Indies when they let that mantra slip. They started going at nine-an-over against Darren Sammy’s team and never sped up. It was a mistake they never recovered from as Christopher “Universe Boss” Gayle made an absolute mockery of their bowling. It is not a mistake that they have made again.
First they successfully chased 230 against South Africa, making it look easy in the process. They got themselves into trouble against Afghanistan, finding themselves 85-7 but their ridiculously long batting line up saw them reach a match-winning 142 thanks to runs from Moeen Ali batting at seven and David Willey, a man who has a 40-ball hundred in T20Is, batting at nine.
It was Jos Buttler than got them up to 171-4 against Sri Lanka in the last group game which was always enough but nearly wasn’t thanks to rival skipper Angelo Mathews just refusing to give in. They are in the semi-finals because of their batsmen, and if they go on and win the whole thing it will be because of them as well.
That is not to say New Zealand can’t bat, they have Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill, Luke Ronchi and a few others who can win a game with the bat. But New Zealand are the best bowling team facing England, the side that has been most reliant on their batting to win them matches. It is a contest that should be fascinating, and one in which New Zealand should be favourites. They are a far more rounded team than England whose lop-sidedness towards batting is bordering on the ridiculous.
The leveller may well be the pitch at the Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi. It has not turned as much as the pitches on which New Zealand have played up until this point, in fact the opposite has been true in the most recent fixtures.
Also, while New Zealand are yet to play a game in the same location twice, England have had two games in Delhi and have been there for over a week. What the curator will throw up for the teams is anyone’s guess, but England will be more acclimatised to the conditions.
Come Wednesday night we will know if it is New Zealand’s Ferris Bueller or England’s cocky quarterback who makes it to the final in Kolkata and almost everyone will be hoping to “Save Ferris”.