Possibly the best game of the 2015 ODI World Cup was New Zealand’s triumph over Australia in Auckland. Australia’s 151 off only 32.2 overs nearly proved enough. However, the plucky Black Caps found a way to overcome a rampant Mitchell Starc and win with only one wicket left.
That Kane Williamson decided to put Pat Cummins back over his head for a 6 to close it out was one of those moments that will never be forgotten.
Fast forward just over a year and the two sides have met again in another low-scoring pool game in an ICC event.
Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh is of a similar size to Eden Park. More like a kiddie ground than say an MCG. It is perched high up in the Himalayas, just asking for teams to make 200+ when batting first.
New Zealand couldn’t. In fact, 142 was well below a winning score for most teams.
That it was defended is both a compliment to New Zealand and an indictment on Australia. However, the 142 must be a cause for concern for the New Zealanders because after Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson and Colin Munro at the top of the order, the batting below appears out of sorts.
Munro is an interesting one.
After 20 odd T20I’s, he strikes at over 150 with an average of 24. For context, that’s a better record than Glenn Maxwell. Watching the two play, they could be brothers. That same “I’ll just make up my own shot” kind of batting wizardry that gets us all excited.
But positions 4 and 5 and currently misfiring. Corey Anderson, although a powerful striker of the ball, is perhaps better suited to 6 or 7. In that scenario, he only needs to face 10 balls and go hard. At 4, he is usually required to bat out 10 overs. It is not his thing.
Ross Taylor is at 5. One of the greats of red-ball cricket in the last 3 or 4 seasons. But again he is in the wrong slot for white-ball cricket. Ideally he bats at 4 and holds the second half of the innings together. Just as George Bailey used to do for Australia.
But at number 5, the game requires him to hit hard and hit quickly. It’s not quite for him. Then we have Grant Elliott. The man with cricket’s most polished beard is wasted at 6. He was New Zealand’s best batsman across both the World Cup semi-final and final. He clearly relishes a challenge against the best and is in form.
I’d prefer him batting closer to 4 or 5 than 6. Corey Anderson needs to be behind him, not ahead.
McCullum’s exit has forced Williamson up one spot in the order and at the moment, although it might be working for him, it isn’t working for team balance.
The bowling has found a gem in Mitchell Santner. His deliveries to get Steve Smith and Rohit Sharma were perfectly played and batsmen are struggling to get to him. With Ish Sodhi for support, there is a potential for 8 overs of decent spin should Williamson wish to use it.
Trent Boult and Tim Southee are yet to play a match. Not because they ate no good, but because the Black Caps are selecting what they think is the best team for the pitches they are playing on. It’s clever and mature.
Although they keep finding a way to win, those 140 - 160 type scores will not be enough come the pointy end of the tournament.
The batsmen are there. They are just in the wrong positions.
Sort that out and New Zealand might just win an ICC trophy in a few weeks time.