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Stats Analysis

Boult, Henry, Ferguson: Brutal, Hellish, Fast

The numbers suggest New Zealand have the best pace attack at the World Cup. Can they live up to those numbers one more time?

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
Sometime in the early years of this century, Scott Styris once said, New Zealand Cricket (NZC) decided to change the nature of the pitches in the country. You might remember the greentops New Zealand had become renowned for, as in 2002-03, when India's highest total, across 11 international innings on tour, was 219.
It wasn't much helping New Zealand's batsmanship, NZC thought, and it was aiding the wrong kind of bowler, a bowler like Styris, in fact, who didn't need to have much pace, who didn't need to do too much because the pitch did it for him, and who could also bat.
They started producing better pitches, surfaces batting could prosper on and, as a result, surfaces on which a fast bowler had to have a little something to prosper. Pace, most preferably, but good skill too, the wrist and discipline to extract swing and seam where and when possible.
Now a zillion things go into producing elite fast bowlers and, along the way, a gazillion things can and do go wrong. But this is being put out here that a decade and a half on from that change, New Zealand have got Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson, and are in their second consecutive World Cup final. Tim Southee's here too and has only been needed for one game.
And back home, there's a few more who could've been here - Adam Milne, super-quick and injury-prone. Doug Bracewell. Neil Wagner, who arrived from South Africa as a traditional left-arm swing bowler, and when presented with the challenges of New Zealand conditions transformed himself into the one-of-a-kind short-ball monster that he is in Test cricket. And though he made himself unavailable a couple of years ago, Mitchell McClenaghan too. More await. This is serious depth.
Pitches, sure. But pitches alone? That would be to ignore a big, romantic unquantifiable like Shane Bond. If a kid growing up had seen Bond 1.0 bowl in the early 2000s, how could they not want to bowl like him? That Henry and Milne both have such Bond moves - sleek run-ins, a proper hurl at the crease - cannot be coincidence.
Whatever it is, it has meant New Zealand have had not only one of the best pace attacks at this World Cup, but one of its most rounded. Whatever your poison, New Zealand are dealing in it. Swing? There's few better than Boult at sniffing out every last degree of it. Traditional fast-medium seam? Henry's your man, just about enough pace to keep batsmen honest with the added threat of movement off the surface. Out-and-out pace? Not many are quicker than Ferguson this tournament and maybe only Jofra Archer has bowled better bouncers.
And so, Boult and Henry have been among the tournament's most effective Powerplay 1 bowlers. No pair has more than their 13 wickets in that phase, though it is particularly relevant for Sunday that Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer also have 13. Neither is this effectiveness a sudden blooming, or a one-off. Since the last World Cup, no side has better bowling figures in the first ten overs than New Zealand. Not only have they taken the most wickets, but they have the best strike rate and the second-best economy rate, and are the only side to average under than 30 in the phase.
Bowling attacks in Powerplay 1 since 2015 World Cup
Team Inns Wkt Ave Econ SR
 New Zealand  84  133  29.12  4.61  37.85
 England  95  131  36.78  5.07  43.51
 South Africa  81  118  33.74  4.91  41.19
 Sri Lanka  91  115  41.19  5.25  47.03
 India  94  114  39.42  4.78  49.47
 Pakistan  87  107  40.46  5.00  48.55
 Australia  86  106  41.24  5.14  48.11
 Afghanistan  69  94  30.03  4.09  43.98
 West Indies  74  88  42.47  5.12  49.69
 Bangladesh  69  78  41.93  4.74  53.08
Boult has been central, the constant even as his long-time partner Southee has faded and Henry has stepped up. Most conversations will - and if not, they should - have Boult in their top three fast bowlers, not just because he has the most wickets in the world since the last World Cup among his breed. But especially at the front end of an innings, he has turned New Zealand into the side they are now: other than Afghanistan, no team in the last four years has so often reduced the opposition to five down for less than 100.
Five down for less than 100
Bowling team Inns Mats %
 Afghanistan  18  69  26.08
 New Zealand  20  82  24.39
 South Africa  16  81  19.75
 Pakistan  16  85  18.82
 Bangladesh  9  67  13.43
 Sri Lanka  11  87  12.64
 India  11  94  11.70
 West Indies  7  71  9.85
 England  9  92  9.78
 Australia  8  83  9.63
Since the end of 2016, they've had Ferguson to start bossing those middle overs. More than any other New Zealand fast bowler, the causality of truer, better batting surfaces producing faster bowlers is evident in Ferguson. Look at this picture of him, just as he is about to release. This doesn't give as clear a sense as a screenshot of this point from front-on would, because his upper half is almost ninety degrees sideways - as in, bent over his left hip - to his base. It's almost a yoga stretch.
The one thing nobody will disagree on upon seeing this picture is that whatever the nature of the surface, this guy is going to extract express pace, bounce, something, anything out of it. That is how much effort is going into this release. If the action ended up causing injuries it wouldn't be a surprise, but the effectiveness right now is not in dispute.
Once the ball is softer, in those middle overs, Ferguson has been a game-changer. His pace, the bouncer of course, and the variations - along with Mitchell Starc, he's the leading wicket-taker this tournament in the second Powerplay (overs 11-40). Starc has the better strike rate but Ferguson's 12 wickets have come at a better average and a lower economy rate. If New Zealand miss a really attacking spinner in those middle overs, Ferguson more than makes up for it, and that's without throwing in James Neesham's nine wickets in that phase and Boult's five. It isn't a surprise that New Zealand have the best middle-overs average (30.66) and economy rate (4.61) of any team at this World Cup.
And they haven't been bad at the death either. While five other teams have more wickets in that phase, only England have a better economy rate.
Given all this, the whys and hows of New Zealand's run becomes clear. Bowling sides out is the new-old-always mantra in ODIs and New Zealand have done it the joint-most this tournament - five times, the same as England and Australia. But let's give this a better spin: they've done it five times in nine games and not in 10 as the other two.
The spin could go on. Boult, Henry and Ferguson have played together seven times in this World Cup and New Zealand have won six of those matches (their overall ODI record is 11-2). Two of the times they didn't play (against Australia and England), New Zealand lost.
But - and New Zealand, ever honest, understand this themselves - they have come across some of the less batting-friendly surfaces this tournament. Not exactly bowler-friendly, but there's been different degrees of assistance for them and New Zealand have exploited every last drop of help. The one time they didn't, in Durham against England, Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy took them apart - until the pitch swiftly slowed down and New Zealand hauled things back. (Though, partly in excitement, partly in hope that he makes it a contest, it would be negligent to not point out that Ferguson missed the Durham game.) One other time, during Carlos Brathwaite's assault at Old Trafford, Henry especially looked rattled.
Excuses don't work in World Cup finals, whatever the conditions, so the three will have to be as good as they've been in this tournament, as good as they've been over the last four years, as good, perhaps, as they've ever needed to be.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo