Quaint; it's a word that's used to describe something that's attractively or endearingly old fashioned. It's a word that's often used to describe the small town of Tai Tapu, where New Zealand's World Cup squad was named on Tuesday.
Tai Tapu is on the outskirts of Christchurch. It used to be a rural service town, where the seed merchants and tractor salesman lived, but as Christchurch has grown towards it, it has become a place where bankers, lawyers and former international cricketers live, enjoying the laid back lifestyle of a small town, but still conveniently close enough to the city.
The town library is a small stone building that is open two hours a day, three days a week and maintained by volunteers. It's quaint. A throwback to simpler times.
And in some ways, Tai Tapu was the perfect place for New Zealand to announce their World Cup squad, because it too is a little bit quaint.
First of all is an opener with a solid defensive technique, but who doesn't really attack much early on, Henry Nicholls, who was brought up in Tai Tapu, stands in stark contrast to the likes of Jonny Bairstow or David Warner as a batsman who accelerates after building a strong foundation, rather than one who starts off quickly. It's a selection that harks back to a time where Mark Taylor, Saeed Anwar and Gary Kirsten were opening the batting. It's a quaint idea.
Then is the surprise selection of Tom Blundell as a specialist wicket keeper who's unlikely to bat in the top seven. We have to think back to the likes of Rashid Latif, Dave Richardson or Kiran More a to see a similar selection. It's a quaint idea.
Gary Stead, the New Zealand coach, built his coaching career on dividing the game into three parts. When batting, the first 10 overs were for being cautious first, then accelerating later. Canterbury tended to be on about 50 for 1 after 10 overs while Stead was coaching. Other teams tried to be on about 70, but tended to lose an extra wicket.
Interestingly, neither of these approaches is objectively better. The average final score after a team was at 50/1 off 10 overs is almost identical to the average score after being 70/2 off 10 overs (315 vs 316). Building a solid platform is somewhat old fashioned, but it's endearingly so - quaint rather than backward.
Joining Nicholls is Martin Guptill (the top scorer from the last world cup) and selected as a backup is Colin Munro. Guptill has tended to play the more defensive role as an opener, and might appreciate the direction that Stead is heading in.
Munro, however, has certainly struggled since Stead took over. Munro has been asked to bat as if it's a first class match. This is not altogether a bad idea, Munro is one of only three players in history to average over 50 in New Zealand first class cricket (Martin Crowe and Verdun Scott being the others), and has done it at a strike rate only just under 100. If Munro manages to play like that effectively, then it could be very useful.
The second phase of the match under Stead's coaching in domestic cricket was the accumulation phase. Numbers 3, 4 and 5 had the job of eliminating dot balls as much as possible. In Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham, he has selected three solid batsmen to perform accumulator's role. As a group they have averaged over 50 in the past two years, which puts them slightly ahead of India's numbers 3-5, slightly behind England's trio and well ahead of all other countries.
Williamson is the most famous of the three, but has probably been the least impressive recently in ODIs. But his class is more than likely to shine through at the World Cup. Having a big performance in a global tournament is one of the few things missing from his impressive cricketing resume. This is the perfect opportunity for him to correct that.
Ross Taylor has been a phenomenon in the last few years. Since losing the captaincy to Brendon McCullum, he's averaged over 60, and is now firmly in the conversation for arguably being the greatest number 4 batsman in history. In the last four years he's averaged 68.85. That's despite having played a lot of his cricket in New Zealand, where the overall averages have been lower than everywhere except UAE, Zimbabwe or Bangladesh.
Competing the top order is Tom Latham. He has struggled on New Zealand wickets, but has been a behemoth elsewhere. In the last four years he's averaged over 55 in matches that aren't at home, one of only six batsmen to have done that worldwide.
There's one name missing from this group, who many had expected to be there, and that's Will Young. Young hasn't made his New Zealand debut yet, despite being in the squad for a few series. This World Cup is probably a year too early for him, given that he's still a bit of an unknown quantity.
The third stage of the batting under Stead is the power hitting stage. The three players for this role are all quite different, but have been very effective at times: Jimmy Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme and Mitchell Santner.
Neesham was the stand out batsman in 50-over domestic cricket in New Zealand this year. He scored 503 runs at an average of 62.9 and a strike rate of 110.8. Included in that was a ridiculous 120* that came when Wellington needed 151 to win as Neesham came to the wicket.
De Grandhomme is, along with Andre Russell, one of the two batsmen with the highest strike rates in the history of T20 cricket. His power hitting reached folklore status while he was playing for Auckland. If you ask the locals they will talk of him hitting a ball into the car park across the road from Colin Maiden Park, hitting the ball onto the motorway over bridge at Victoria Park or hitting the ball into the North Stand at Eden Park from the Eden Park outer oval. He's certainly capable of scoring quickly, but there's a big question about if he can do it under pressure.
Mitchell Santner isn't a typical power hitter, in that he often hits his 6's behind the wicket rather than over extra cover or mid wicket, but once he gets established at the crease, he normally scores very quickly. He scores at a strike rate over 140 in about one third of his innings, making him an effective partner to the players above him in the order.
With the ball, Stead used a clear pattern also. Attack up front with pace and bounce, medium pace and spin through the middle overs, then bring back the pace bowlers at the death.
The three bowlers who have been picked to compete for the opening bowling spots are Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Matt Henry.
Boult was a controversial selection at the last World Cup, but has gone on to be anything but since then. Ranked number two ODI bowler by the ICC, his inswing will be particularly useful in England. The last World Cup in England saw a left arm swing bowler from New Zealand (Geoff Allott) set the tournament alight. New Zealand will be hoping for a repeat from Boult.
The decision between Henry and Southee will be one that is a talking point for a number of fans. Southee’s bowling in Tests and T20Is off-late has been outstanding, but he has not been producing the sort of numbers that would be expected of a bowler of his pedigree in ODI cricket recently. In the last four years he’s taken only 54 wickets at an average of over 40. In contrast, in that same time Matt Henry has taken 55 wickets at an average of 29.72 having played 12 fewer matches.
However, that does not tell the whole story. Southee has often been used as a foil for Boult. He’s bowled 21 maidens, roughly one every 18 overs, and that despite bowling predominantly at the death and during the powerplay. Henry has often been used at the start and then in the middle overs, which inevitably results in a lower economy rate, but is possibly less useful for the balance of the side.
Over the past 12 months, Southee has started to regain some of his form with the white ball also. He’s averaged 32 with the ball, as opposed to 36 for Matt Henry. Stead has shown a tendency to go with the players he coached at Canterbury, as he knows how to get the best out of them, but Henry has not really stepped up to make the most of the extra opportunities.
The fourth genuine pace bowler, and a man likely to be the third seamer is Lockie Fergusson. Possibly the fastest bowler in the world at the moment, Fergusson has also shown a liking for the English conditions, averaging 17 with the white ball in the last English domestic season as an import player. In the last 12 months he has the third best average and fifth best economy rate of any fast bowler to not get the new ball. His pace and accuracy make him a real threat for New Zealand.
Joining him in the middle overs will be at least two of De Grandhomme, Santner, Neesham and Ish Sodhi. Sodhi was another interesting call, with rumours that Todd Astle was going to be named until a last minute intervention from Kane Williamson who favoured Sodhi. Sodhi has the advantage of turning the ball sharply both ways, while Astle has more variation with his leg break, but does not get as much movement with his wrong'un. English grounds tend to have longer straight boundaries, so the ability to turn the ball both ways allows Sodhi to bowl on off stump, making it difficult to hit him square. Astle needs to bowl more of a middle stump line, meaning that the shorter square boundaries are easier for the batsmen to access.
Santner and De Grandhomme have been miserly without taking many wickets. Stead doesn’t seem to mind this at all, in a way that harks back to the time that he was playing for New Zealand where the likes of Gavin Larsen and Chris Harris were keeping it tight in the middle overs. Quite a quaint idea to revert to, really.
Neesham’s bowling has been a real bonus since his return. He’s taking on more of the Jacques Kallis type role, of trying to bowl short spells with high impact. His outstanding off-cutter may well see him be very effective in England.
The other unlucky players with the ball are Doug Bracewell, Scott Kuggeleijn and Hamish Bennett. Each of them have bowled well in domestic cricket, and played quite well in their limited opportunities in the black shirt, but have not done enough to force their way in.
Without a doubt, however, the greatest surprise was the selection of Tom Blundell as the wicket-keeping cover. A quality keeper, but one who only averages in the low 20’s in domestic 50-over cricket and did not even make his domestic team for the Ford Trophy, he will probably not play a match, but if he does, it will be really interesting to see how the batting line up is modified to make room for him. There’s certainly some merit to picking a specialist keeper, but the balance that comes for having Latham take the gloves would certainly be missed.
Overall this is a good squad, and one that has a reasonably good chance of lifting the World Cup. New Zealand almost always are outside the top four favourites before the start of every World Cup, and yet they almost always make the semi-finals. With this squad, however, the target should certainly be more than just the top four.