Cricket

T20 World Cup 2021: New Zealand's professionalism in all three departments guides them to semi-finals

It can be tempting to distill cricket into a battle between bat and ball. The bowlers bowl. The batters bat. But the game is so much more than that, and New Zealand showed against Afghanistan just how much all the other things counted.

The New Zealand cricket team right now are professionals. They go about their business in a clinical manner. Every detail is taken care of, and every possible opportunity for advantage is extracted. The importance of those details was made evident in their final Super 12 match.

New Zealand vs Afghanistan match was a contest between two set of good players but the professionalism of the Kiwi team made the difference in the end. AP Photo

New Zealand vs Afghanistan match was a contest between two set of good players but the professionalism of the Kiwi team made the difference in the end. AP Photo

New Zealand were electric in the field. Some of the most difficult catches of the tournament were held in this match. Devon Conway produced a great reflex catch with the gloves. Tim Southee made a very difficult return catch off Mohammad Nabi look quite straight forward. James Neesham had to run roughly the length of a pitch to pouch Najibulla Zadran’s drive and off the last ball of the innings Kane Williamson nonchalantly took a catch that many top players would have not laid a finger on.

But as dramatic as the catches were, the ground fielding was better. Daryl Mitchell dived over the line and managed to keep a ball inside the ropes that looked destined for six. Glenn Phillips showed off the results of his new fitness regime, probably saving 5 or 6 runs in the outfield by cutting down to singles balls that would have normally seen the batters run two.

In comparison, the Afghani fielders looked sluggish and less skillful. Hamid Hasan had a couple of balls go past him, balls that Trent Boult or Tim Southee would have probably backed themselves to catch. The New Zealand batters hit the ball to a fielder and ran two on a couple of occasions.

The catches obviously resulted in wickets, but if anything the ground fielding played a bigger part in hurting Afghanistan’s chances. Cricket is such a mental game, that the extra pressure on a batter caused by repeatedly not scoring as many as they felt a shot was worth can get that batter to change their gameplan. These little things make a big difference. New Zealand were professional about all the little details.

Another area where New Zealand excelled was in the captaincy. The first few deliveries from the New Zealand pace bowlers were pitched up, attacking the stumps. This was clearly the plan from the dressing room. However, a new plan emerged quickly afterwards. The bowlers changed their lengths, bowling more on the 8m border between good and short. This bore immediate fruit. Then, rather than using the five specialist bowlers that New Zealand had picked, Kane Williamson assessed the conditions and brought on James Neesham to bowl. Neesham bowled his four overs and picked up 1/24. He is very seldom a better option with the ball than Sodhi or Santner, but on this pitch, against this opposition, it was an excellent call.

He bowled the final over too. That was another example of quality planning from Williamson and the New Zealand management team. Neesham bowled four low full tosses in the final over. All 4 ended up being dot balls. One or two can be put down to good luck. But once a bowler bowls four similar deliveries, it starts to look like a plan. They obviously had enough knowledge of Rashid Khan’s batting to know that it was better to err full than to do it short. It was the hallmark of a professional outfit. New Zealand had done their research, and their plan paid off.

Despite that, Afghanistan batted reasonably well, with Najibullah Zadran batting particularly well. If that innings had been against a team that were not so excellent in the field he may well have crossed a hundred. But his 73 was still a very good score in those conditions.

New Zealand did not have anyone bat as well as that. But New Zealand did not need anyone to either. With a small target to chase, they could almost bat as if it was a test match. Mohammad Nabi chose not to put men around the bat, so the batters were almost batting in a vacuum. No scoreboard pressure, no pressure from the field settings and no pressure from good fielding meant that batting became easier. Better captaincy would have built more pressure, but Afghanistan were not quite professional enough to do that.

Rather than have the fielders put pressure on the batters, the New Zealand batters took extra runs in the field, reversing that, and putting the pressure on the fielders. During the fielding restrictions, it can be hard to get ones and twos, with the scoring tending to feature a higher proportion of boundaries than in the middle overs. When Afghanistan were batting they ran 10 runs in the powerplay. New Zealand ran 21 runs. Running between wickets is an easy skill to ignore, but New Zealand are professional enough that nothing gets ignored.

The New Zealand innings was not without some incidents, however. Mitchell failed to pick a carrom ball from Mujeeb Ur Rahman, and Martin Guptill missed a googly from Rashid Khan. But in some ways the ball that summed up the innings was in the eleventh over when Hamid Hasan managed to find the edge of Devon Conway’s bat, only for nobody to appeal for the catch. Appealing is one of the basics of the game. Afghanistan were just not quite aware enough, not quite professional enough to take advantage.

In the end, the match was played between two groups of excellent players. Both sides batted and bowled quite well. But one side was more professional about all the little things. Things like captaincy, running between wickets and fielding are hard to measure, but they are the things that make the difference between a group of good players and a star team. The professionalism that New Zealand displayed is the reason why they are going to be staying in UAE a bit longer.

It was not just the batting and bowling. Instead, it was everything else. The most professional team won.

Michael Wagener is a cricket tragic from New Zealand. He discovered early on that he would never be an expert at playing cricket, so set out to be an expert at watching it.

Updated Date: November 08, 2021 10:43:39 IST

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