Afghanistan vs New Zealand, ICC Cricket World Cup 2019: Kiwis turn Taunton's small boundaries into wicket-taking baits in facile win

In the match between New Zealand and Afghanistan at Taunton, the small boundaries did not result in a run-fest. They allowed a few extra runs for some shots, but they also allowed Williamson and the New Zealand bowlers to set traps to dismiss the Afghan batsmen.

Michael Wagener, Jun 09, 2019 09:19:22 IST

Hazratullah Zazai knew the square boundaries at Taunton were short, so when he saw a wide half volley, he threw everything at it. But the ball moved away just slightly, and he simply sliced it to the man waiting in the deep for that exact shot.

One of the essential elements of a game of cricket is risk versus reward. When a batsman is looking to play a shot, he has to weigh how risky it is against what the reward may be.

A swing bowler knows that if he pitches it up, the ball will swing more, but that it is also more likely to get hit. A spinner knows that if the bowls a bit slower the ball will turn more, but it also makes it easier for the batsman. With both of those decisions, the bowler has to weigh up the risk against the reward.

Noor Ali guessed that a short ball was coming. But he also knew that there was a short boundary to fine leg. So he moved across his stumps in order to glance the ball down there. The extra pace from Ferguson, however, undid him, and he ended up getting an inside edge to wicketkeeper Tom Latham.

Many Afghanistan batsmen, including the likes of Noor Ali, tried to take advantage of ground's dimensions, but were undone by smart bowling and captaincy from New Zealand. AP

Many Afghanistan batsmen, including the likes of Noor Ali, tried to take advantage of ground's dimensions, but were undone by smart bowling and captaincy from New Zealand. AP

Probably the ultimate example of the balance between risk and reward is a captain setting a field. If he puts all his fielders out on the boundary or in run-saving positions, he may not pick up the wickets that are needed to restrict the opposition team. But if he puts all the fielders in attacking positions, the batsman may score too quickly. He needs to strike the right balance.

The art of captaincy is about looking at all of the conditions and finding the best solution to fit within them. In situations where the ground is a consistent size, there's no wind and the pitch is even, captaincy can almost be done by the book. However, when some of those things start to change, captaincy becomes more difficult and much more important.

Rahmat Shah wanted to access the short square boundary. He moved across and tried to play the ball from off stump through square leg. But instead of heading to square leg, the ball took the leading edge and looped up to point.

On grounds that are located near prevailing winds off the Southern Ocean (the Basin Reserve, Newlands, and the WACA), dealing with the wind can be a real challenge for captains. As a result, often there are innovative tactics in matches on those grounds.

Likewise, playing on some of the smaller grounds such as Eden Park, Eden Gardens, or Trent Bridge requires some clever thinking from the captains. The bowling plans and fields that are set need to reflect the nature of the ground.

Aftab Alam had one strategy when he was batting: Clear his hip and swing for the short boundary. In the 36th over, the first ball was hit for four through mid-wicket. Alam tried to repeat the shot to the second ball, but got a top edge. It fell just fine of the very fine third-man that Kiwi skipper Kane Williamson had set, and went for four. The same shot drew a play and miss from the third ball, but then the fourth ball got another edge, and this one was pouched by Latham.

Another thing that adds to the complexity is when the pitch has a special character. If a pitch is taking turn, or is seaming about a bit, or if it has extra bounce, there are more decisions for the captain to make. Where should the catchers be? How many should be used? What's the likely pressure-release shot? How can that be combatted? Some of these decisions are what leads to the most interesting cricket.

Dimensions of England's grounds force captains to think through their strategies.

 

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Dimensions of England's grounds force captains to think through their strategies.

Watching the decisions being made by the captains creates an extra thing to watch. Rather than just being a battle between bat and ball, it's also a battle of wits between the captain and the batsman.

Without the element of the captain setting fields based on the conditions and the battle of wits, there isn't much more interest than watching a batsman playing in the nets against a bowling machine.

Martin Guptill clearly had the short square boundary on his mind, when he tried to hit his first ball from off stump to square leg. The inside edge went off his thigh pad and ballooned up to backward point. New Zealand were 0/1.

One of the most refreshing things about this World Cup so far has been that the grounds are not cookie-cutter grounds. Each ground has a distinctive character and that character creates decision-making opportunities for the captains.

Most of the grounds have a short boundary. Does the captain protect it or use it as bait? What length should the bowlers be bowling to avoid being hit there? What are the consequences of bowling that length?

Small boundaries, unusually shaped grounds, and pitches with a little bit in them for everyone create opportunities for captains to demonstrate their skill.

In the match between New Zealand and Afghanistan at Taunton, the small boundaries did not result in a run-fest. They allowed a few extra runs for some shots, but they also allowed Williamson and the New Zealand bowlers to set traps to dismiss the Afghan batsmen.

Watching the extra decision-making element from an odd-shaped ground adds far more enjoyment to the game than just watching someone in the nets against a bowling machine.

Taunton delivered on that balance on Saturday, and made what could have been a mundane mismatch turned into a series of interesting battles.

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Updated Date: Jun 09, 2019 09:25:17 IST


World Cup 2019 Points Table

Team p w l nr pts
Australia 5 4 1 0 8
New Zealand 4 3 0 1 7
England 4 3 1 0 6
India 3 2 0 1 5
Sri Lanka 5 1 2 2 4
West Indies 4 1 2 1 3
South Africa 5 1 3 1 3
Bangladesh 4 1 2 1 3
Pakistan 4 1 2 1 3
Afghanistan 4 0 4 0 0





Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3663 105
5 Australia 2640 98
6 Sri Lanka 3462 94
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 5720 124
2 India 5990 122
3 New Zealand 4121 114
4 South Africa 4647 111
5 Australia 4805 109
6 Pakistan 4107 93
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 Australia 5471 261
5 India 7273 260
6 New Zealand 4056 254