New Zealand v West Indies, World Cup 2015, 4th quarter-final, Wellington March 19, 2015

The death overs dilemma

With the trend of teams saving their wickets for the end overs, the battle between New Zealand's bowlers and West Indies' big hitters may well shape the Wellington quarter-final
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Richard Hadlee: I'm astounded because if you look at the last 10 overs of teams batting, particularly batting first, 110, 120, 130 runs are being conceded

New Zealand's new-ball attack against West Indies' flimsy top order; whether Brendon McCullum is removed early; the ability to counter the dual threat of Daniel Vettori's economy and strike-rate. Numerous aspects could decide the Wellington quarter-final, but if West Indies are able to lay a platform the contest between their hefty strikers in the middle order and New Zealand's death-bowling tactics shapes as vital.

McCullum only knows one way to play. In the field it is an all-out search for wickets. Whereas every other captain juggles his bowlers with the closing overs firmly in mind, McCullum's main aim is to make them irrelevant. When it works, as it did dramatically against England and Australia in recent weeks, it looks like genius.

However, the flip side was evident against Bangladesh when, through a combination of a poor day for Mitchell McClenaghan and a desire to take wickets, Grant Elliott was required to bowl two of the final three overs. Bangladesh rattled off 104 from the last 10 overs, but New Zealand had just enough in the tank to overhaul them. If the death bowling is off against West Indies, the likes of Darren Sammy and Andre Russell could cause horrendous damage.

"If we can get a good start, blunt the attack early, then we could be in for a good ball game," Curtly Ambrose, West Indies' bowling coach, said in a slightly more toned-down version of Sammy's comments on Wednesday when he said New Zealand "didn't have an answer" in the closing overs against Bangladesh.

McCullum, though, is unlikely to change his plans. In fact, as Sri Lanka showed in the first quarter-final by promoting Kusal Perera, switching tactics last-minute before a key game can do more harm than good. Adam Milne is set to return in place of McClenaghan and if all goes to script for McCullum he will not look beyond his five main bowlers, but should a sixth be required Elliott will again be the man under pressure.

"I've done it for Wellington and throughout by career, you mix and match some overs where you can," Elliott said. "With T20 you are under the pump all the time so you have to develop the skills to curb the runs as much as you can.

"Whenever Baz [McCullum] calls on me I enjoy it. It complements my batting game. I certainly pay more attention in the field when I'm bowling. Generally if I am bowling we aren't doing too well as a unit so if we continue the way we have gone then I shouldn't need to bowl too many."

Death bowling has been under the microscope throughout this tournament. Teams have attempted to stack wickets in order to unleash from the 35th over onward, which is both the justification and danger of McCullum's approach, and some heartache has been handed out to bowlers. The current era of one-day bowlers are having to combat batsmen with a wider array of strokes than ever before - AB de Villiers and Glenn Maxwell being two of the best examples of players who score 360 degrees - but there remains scepticism from previous generations about the extensive use of variations.

"I'm astounded because if you look at the last 10 overs of teams batting, particularly batting first, 110, 120, 130 runs are being conceded," Richard Hadlee said while sat alongside fellow knight Ambrose. "You look at the way bowlers are bowling and there just aren't the yorkers. I know that with yorkers if you don't get it right, they'll go out of the park like anything else but there's a tendency to bowl back of a length, to bowl the slow bouncer, other different changes of pace, to bowl full and wide as another way.

"These are tactics and the way the modern game is but I've always thought that if you get the yorker right, it's pretty difficult to hit that out of the park."

Ambrose, meanwhile, spoke with two hats on. As part of the West Indies backroom staff he will delight if New Zealand's attack is under the pump on Saturday, but as part of the bowlers' union he does not believe the game is an even contest anymore.

His charges have certainly come in for some punishment in this tournament, most staggeringly when Jason Holder went from having figures of 5-2-9-1 against South Africa to 10-2-104-2 at the hands of de Villiers.

"I think presently it's grossly one-sided. Everything favours the batsman," he said. "It's too one-sided and the powers that may be need to look at it seriously and make it a little more even because at the moment it's all about the batting. If you don't have bowlers you have no cricket. Soon we may have to get some bowling machines."

Hadlee, though, was a touch sanguine about the challenge for the bowlers. "A lot of teams are in trouble early on. They've lost 1 for 10, 2 for 20 and clearly the two balls that are used, one at each end, is having a dramatic effect. We're seeing some good contests early on but after teams rebuild and get to a competitive total so the balance to me is good at the moment."

Andrew McGlashan is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Garry on March 21, 2015, 0:09 GMT

    Anil Kumar I have said it before and I will say it again, only the WI and SA have a better win ratio against Australia in Australia. We have won 31% of games we have played there vs them. Indias pop gun attack doesn't stand a chance as we seen pre world cup.

  • N on March 20, 2015, 23:33 GMT

    @MOHSIN9975 I guess the key doubt surrounding NZ is whether their fast bowlers can get the same amount of swing in Australia as they do in NZ. NZ conditions naturally swing a lot more but so far I haven't seen much swing in Australia. There is pace and bounce but NZ's front two quicks aren't express pace like Australia. So that is the only bit of doubt about NZ if they go into the final. I mean especially given the fact that they would be up against either India or Australia in the final, one being the host nation and the other being a team that has been in Aus so long that they must feel like they are the host nation. So if NZ have even the slightest problem in adjusting to the bigger ground or the lack of swing, they could get into real trouble,

  • Dummy on March 20, 2015, 22:32 GMT

    Wish WI team all the best for the game.

  • Al on March 20, 2015, 21:27 GMT

    looks like a very cold clear day.....will put off the Windies as will the crowd support which at the cake tin is very close and loud. I predict a 100 plus win or a chase of 210-235 and completed with 45 overs with max loss of 5 wickets, comfortably. Based off a mindset from NZ of all out relentless aggression it will be too much as it has to all opposition for along time. Crowd will make them play even harder to win. NZ has quality depth on all departments.....

  • Mohsin on March 20, 2015, 20:50 GMT

    There is nothing to choose between SA, NZ & AUS on a given day in terms of skills. IND is the only subcontinent side in the S/F. Our openers arent great vs good pace bowling, we dont have good sloggers for death overs(except Raina), fast bowling has been surprisingly great & are due a failure, as soon as the pacers fail, the spinners (particularly Jadeja) come under the hammer & bowl defensive lines not looking for wickets which in turn is a recipe' for some slog overs bashing. When one of our top order batsmen doesnt stay till the 45th over our team falters. MSD isnt great vs good fast bowling(regardless of what the record shows). If Raina doesnt click, India mostly fall short in the death overs. Everything has fallen in place for the Team till now. The fast bowling has been of great help till now. Hope it continues the good form, else its downhill for us from the beginning of the innings.

  • Mohsin on March 20, 2015, 20:04 GMT

    @AnilKumar Its wierd when people try to put down this NZ team. It is an all weather/conditions team. What do u need to win in Aus conditions? A good pace attack, a wily & wicket taking spinner, good fielders in huge outfields of MCG, attacking batsmen at the top who can handle pace, solid middle order batsmen, big hitters in the slog overs & a leader who looks for wickets. They hav it all. They r not a subcontinent side that needs to acclimatize to Aussie conditions. They would relish those conditions. In fact, they have the best win:loss record for a team that visits Australia & a 42% overall ODI record vs the Aussie.

  • Android on March 20, 2015, 19:53 GMT

    I strongly feel Windies might upset nz.. Never know when what is coming from whom..

  • Dummy4 on March 20, 2015, 16:46 GMT

    New Zealand cannot win against australia in Australia . Only south Africa can beat the australia .New Zealand can win only in their home grounds.every one is talking about newzealand but it is a poor team in other ground apart from their home.

  • Neil on March 20, 2015, 16:15 GMT

    I'm a big fan of McCullum's strategy of using your best bowlers first, rather than holding them back to the end. So much of cricket is psychological (just ask the South Africans!), and a team coming in to the final 10 overs would be MUCH more confident needing (say) 80 with 6 wickets in hand than they would if they were needing 100 with 4 wickets in hand - even if that 100 is needed off weaker bowlers.

    As far as I'm concerned, the only reason to ever take a bowler off is if (a) he's tired; 10 overs on the trot is too much for most people, or (b) the batsman have taken a liking to him and you need to try someone else. This goes double for T20s, where the tiredness factor is not an issue.

  • manish on March 20, 2015, 16:09 GMT

    Again india got easy opponent in semifinal, it would be very close match had pak won today, but an upset today made it very easy passage for india into final...

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