ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
Australia v NZ, Group A, World Cup 2011, Nagpur
New Zealand's top seven woes
Of all the full-member teams, New Zealand's top seven batsmen have the poorest average in the last two years
Nagraj Gollapudi in Nagpur
February 25, 2011
Brendon McCullum, having hit two boundaries against a wayward Shaun Tait in his first over, slashed hard at a wide delivery in the bowler's next over only to be pouched easily at third man; Martin Guptill failed to go forward to a length ball, which kept low and hit his off stump; Jesse Ryder, feet static, chased and nicked a Mitchell Johnson delivery that moved away a wee bit after pitching on a length; Ross Taylor moved in trying to play across to an inswinging yorker that re-arranged his furniture; James Franklin and Scott Styris played shots they will never even attempt in the nets.
None of those deliveries were really unplayable. Few could have been actually left alone. On paper most of these names are a top cast and evoke a strong appeal, but come audition day they tend to fail miserably, and often. Firsthand it is difficult to know if the hurdles are more mental than technical. The one certainty is New Zealand's top order has had more troughs than peaks in the recent past.
In the last two years, New Zealand's top-order batsmen (Nos. 1 to 7) average the least among all full-member teams. In 25 matches since January 2009, New Zealand's top seven average 27.49. That is less than even Zimbabwe, whose batsmen score at 28.48 runs. The best teams like India and South Africa peak above the 40-run mark. Another damning number in the same period is the New Zealanders have registered 36 ducks, a record for any team. On a per match basis New Zealand have less than one fifty-plus score, which is lower than all other teams.
On the back of the disaster back home, it was pretty evident that New Zealand's players were a little bit distracted. But Daniel Vettori, a man who is stoic at the best of times, said later that they were professionals and the remorse felt back home could not be compared or used as an excuse for the dip in the performance today. So is it then the mental approach of players that is vulnerable? Considering the match had been designated for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, it was natural for the players to stay pumped up. Sadly, on Friday, there was only team which was high on adrenaline and it was not New Zealand.
Never once during their act did New Zealand look fluent and solid. They started slowly and grew more timid every over. In the first 15 overs, when the first two Powerplays were on, New Zealand had 78 dot balls and lost their top five batters. Australia had come out with a plan and Ricky Ponting deployed his pace arsenal of four quicks for the first 19 overs to combat the opponent. It worked wonders. "The pressure that Australia put on us in a number of different aspects really hurt us but in the end it was about wickets. It is more about psyching up the pressure and being able to repel that," Vettori said. He felt the batsmen could have hit back through coming back in the batting Powerplay but that never happened because there was no man left standing.
To begin with, McCullum was frenetically chasing everything Tait threw at him and trying to hit it hard. Considering he was facing the fastest bowler in the game, a better ploy could have been to just use the pace to his advantage. McCullum is New Zealand's senior-most top-order batsman, and the team looks to him to provide the ballistic starts he is famous for. But it is not mandatory that he needs to go guns blazing each time. He can study a like-minded batsman in Virender Sehwag, who is showing the determination to bat out as long as possible, which effectively helps India reach bigger totals. It is not necessary that McCullum has to go bashing in the first fifteen. If he can last longer he can always convert the final 15 overs into a Powerplay and use the long handle. His team will have no complaints.
It is just not McCullum who has cobwebs to clear. It is difficult to understand the reason a batsman like Ryder, who scored a brilliant 107 in the final match of the one-day series at home against Pakistan earlier in the month, cannot thread together two big scores on a trot. After the early fall of McCullum, New Zealand depended on Ryder to provide the thrust. He gladly licked Johnson when he failed to get enough height on some short-pitched deliveries aimed at Ryder's hips. A few words were exchanged and Ryder was not shy to open his mouth. But then when Johnson pitched it a little fuller Ryder grew circumspect.
"The two balls in the over before [which Ryder pulled for fours] I did not get them right. I obviously fed him on his hips where he likes them," Johnson said. But Johnson improvised his length immediately. "I actually said to Ricky that I just felt I would nick him off from that good length. Fortunately he nicked it for me. Not sure the plan of bowling short and not getting it up worked but just bowling that good length worked."
That was the case with most other batsmen. Australia had many plans today. New Zealand had barely any answers. Vettori was concerned. "We have got very good players in the top 5. We just need to be stand up and be counted particularly in these big games. They have got the skills, but we have to look it as a unit. We got to find a way to find a result."
New Zealand's top five can learn a lot from the grit of Nathan McCullum, who has hit three half-centuries in his last four innings. If he can dig in deep, why not the rest.
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