Tag Archives: New Zealand

England’s World Cup Campaign: An Optimist’s Review

Judging from much of the media chatter, you could be forgiven for thinking that England have just endured yet another horror show at an ICC event. Failure to secure a victory against a Test playing nation, and bowing out of the competition before the quarter-finals have been the headline grabbers.

However, after looking at the data, it can be deduced that England’s World Cup campaign in Australia and New Zealand has actually been a rip-roaring success. Peter Moores enjoyed his most decorated World Cup as coach – admittedly it was his first, and likely only – while Eoin Morgan recaptured the ability to reach double figures with the bat.

Let’s take a look at each of England’s matches at the event, and why the Barmy Army can make the 10,000-mile trip home in high spirits.

England v Australia – England lost by 111 runs

England’s match with Australia in Melbourne formed part of the curtain-raiser for the tournament and the Three Lions wasted little time in silencing the 84,000-plus crowd. Fearsome bowling from Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes saw them take Australia’s first three wickets for a paltry 70 – a feat unmatched by any other at this year’s World Cup! If not for Aaron Finch, and Glenn Maxwell playing in a way that’s just not cricket, England would have been chasing nowhere near 343.

James Taylor’s 98 left the Poms with much to be encouraged about, and his unfair dismissal – a run-out that screamed of umpiring conspiracy – was evidence of the opposition being terrified England would chase down the further 112 needed in 8.1 overs with one wicket in hand. All in all, a solid start.

England v New Zealand – England lost by 8 wickets

Admittedly, this was hardly the most earth-shattering performance, but there was still plenty to glean from this relatively short display at the office. Winning the toss and batting proved an inspirational decision from Morgan, as England racketed to 100 in 25 overs: well on track for the par score of 250 – wait, it is still 1992 isn’t it? From thereon Tim Southee sent the innings, well, south. But 123 was a total they should have been confident of defending.

It didn’t go quite as planned, yet England could take solace from a killer spell by Chris Woakes, who snaffled two wickets in three overs, with a maiden over to boot. There is no substitute to restricting in-form batsmen when it comes to winning games, and it was Woakes again who delivered, sending Brendon McCullum’s bails flying on only his 25th delivery. Unfortunately, by then he had already tonked 77. Can’t win ’em all.

England v Scotland – England won by 119 runs

England charged to a frighteningly easy win over old foes Scotland. Moeen Ali spanked a Virender Sehwag-esque ton at the top of the order. A day which saw the doubters well and truly silenced. No further comment required.

England v Sri Lanka – England lost by 9 wickets

In a perfect batting display, a Joe Root-powered innings saw England saunter to 309 – superlative to any targets set by the trusty Windows 2000. Root’s 121 was complimented by a late cameo from Jos Buttler, and the duo’s knocks made up for an out-of-form Gary Ballance and a stodgy effort from Morgan.

If they hadn’t spent quite so much time drooling over the soon-to-be-retired Kumar Sangakkara, England perhaps would have claimed a win here, but there were far more important matters at hand. Moeen recorded the second-most economical figures for a spinner who bowled their full 10 overs against Sri Lanka at this World Cup, leaking a mere 50 – only Daniel Vettori conceded fewer. Keeping their opponents batting until the 48th over ensured Sri Lanka were at the crease for longer than in their matches with the two tournament favourites, Australia and New Zealand. A commendable day.

England v Bangladesh – England lost by 15 runs

England narrowly avoided victory against Bangladesh in a contest which typified their tournament. Limiting the Tigers to 275 from their 50 overs – 13 fewer than they managed against the Kiwis – wouldn’t have been possible without James Anderson’s glorious bowling figures of two for 45. It was a score Moores’ side would have been confident of chasing at the interval, with the newly-purchased Windows XP stating they would win providing they scored at least 114 runs from the first 23.1 overs, and lost a maximum of 2.6 wickets.

Once again, forces beyond their control prevented England from keeping their World Cup hopes alive but the Poms had much to cheer about in defeat. England’s innings of 260 was a full 260 more than Australia accumulated against the same opponents – that match was, however, a washout. Early wickets in England’s chase meant Buttler had ample time to make an impact; his 65 from 52 gave his country much to be hopeful about in the future, playing with an aggression never previously seen in his game. Far from an ebbing low, in years to come this match will be viewed as a towering crest for English cricket.

England v Afghanistan – England won by 9 wickets

England culminated their finest World Cup showing for 23 years by pummeling Afghanistan – who will never set foot in a World Cup again if the ICC have their way. Exerting their dominance, England bundled the Afghans out for 111 – their lowest score of the tournament, before biffing off the revised Duckworth/Lewis score with a full seven overs remaining, sending the travelling fans home happily with two points.

Result: England OUT – 5th in Pool A

A mathematical irregularity resulted in two wins from six not being enough to qualify for the next phase of the tournament, something the ICC will undoubtedly try to correct before the 2019 World Cup, which will be held in England and Wales.

However, there are, as usual, many positives to take from England’s curtailed campaign. Due to their early exit, the Test side now have ample time to prepare for their series against the West Indies starting on 13 April. The month lay-off may come as a disappointment, but they say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Which is, yet another positive.

Bowlers hold the key in batsman’s utopia

This article was originally published on Last Word On Sports.

Much has been made about the dominance bat has acquired over ball in One Day cricket—a theme that has only been amplified during this World Cup. The benchmark total of 300 is rapidly being replaced by a younger model, 400—although no one seems to have told England—and in the space of five years, the triple century has usurped the double century as a batsman’s ODI Everest.

When Chris Gayle plundered a sorry Zimbabwe for 215 in Nelson two weeks ago, we witnessed the first ODI 200 that radiated inevitability instead of incredibility. As AB de Villiers shaved five deliveries off Corey Anderson’s fastest hundred in Johannesburg in January—he needed just 31 balls—we took another step towards inexorable batting perfection. David Warner then toyed with the idea of crunching three in Perth last week, as he cantered past 150 with over a third of Australia’s innings to go; admittedly he was “only” battering Afghanistan.

Of the 15 occasions where 400 has been posted by a side in ODI cricket, four have occurred this year, with three from South Africa. Interestingly, four of the five highest totals were recorded in 2006—two by the Proteas. A further 63 totals make the list when including innings in excess of 350, with 27 coming since the turn of the decade. The run-gluts are coming at an unprecedented rate.

However, in the 75 times a target of 350 or greater has been set, only thrice has it proven not to be enough. Scoreboard pressure has, at least, has remained a constant. Sri Lanka looked to be on track to challenge Australia’s 376 in Sydney on Sunday, anchored by yet another seamless Kumar Sangakkara ton, but ultimately, they still fell 65 runs shy of victory.

Analysis of individual statistics would paint a similar picture, there is little point indulging with further mind-boggling statistics. The dawn of batting supremacy has broken—for the first 50 overs anyway.

Therefore is all hope for bowlers lost? Can we conclude that all future pliers of the bowling trade are either masochists or insane? Well, despite the apparent overwhelming evidence, no. In fact, this World Cup has, and will continue to showcase that capable bowlers are worth their weight in gold, fast bowlers in particular. Granted, it is much tougher. Miserly career economy rates are long gone, in that aspect the game has fundamentally changed. Batting powerplays, bigger bats and smaller boundaries suggest this is ICC-induced change, but it doesn’t matter. The contest remains the same.  Good bowling is still good bowling, and it shines as brightly in the new game as it did in the old.

Tim Southee’s seven for 33 against England earlier in the tournament killed the game. In firing out their opponents for 123, New Zealand had killed the game. Similarly in Auckland, Trent Boult’s five wickets gave the Kiwis total command against Australia, dismissing them for 151. It was only another equally impressive bowling effort from Mitchell Starc—who claimed a six-fer—that almost pulled his side back from the brink.

It was Starc who was also vital for Australia when they played Sri Lanka. On a day where 688 runs were racked up, his eight overs for 29 with two late scalps that proved decisive. Conceding fewer than four-an-over choked Sri Lanka’s chase. Every other player in the match went for more than five; four leaked over eight. If just one bowler from the opposition turned in a Starc-like performance, Australia would likely have been restricted to under 350: a score Sri Lanka may well have got close to, considering how ably they handled the first 30 overs of their innings.

Pakistan demonstrated that small totals can still be defended, even against the batting might of South Africa. The choking tag is always bandied around when the latter loses, and in pursuit of 232 they perhaps should have fared better, but Pakistan won this match more than South Africa lost it. Aggressive, fast bowling—a Pakistani trademark—snared wickets, which allowed them to secure the win with the Proteas unable to utilise fourteen overs of their innings. Pakistan’s ferocity with the ball, albeit not at the level of cricket’s Class of ’92 (the Imran Khan-led side who trumped all the last time the World Cup was held on these shores) was a match-winner.

It is not altogether facetious to suggest that the best way to counter attacking batting is through attacking bowling. Brendon McCullum’s Black Caps are living proof. Five times New Zealand have bowled their opposition out this World Cup, five times they have won. Instead of sitting back and protecting strong starts, they have gone for the jugular—employing slip fielders well into the middle overs has not been uncommon. It’s an intriguing policy and one that could prove a trailblazer for future ODI bowling.

Forget slow bouncers and all the other “variations” that in a previous era would have been treated with the disdain they deserve, batsmen have cottoned on. For bowlers, it’s not about reinventing the wheel, but perfecting their original art. Attempting to contain batsmen has become a largely fruitless exercise, although pacers would be well served finding appropriate medication for their yorker allergy. In modern ODI cricket teams must seek to bowl the opposition out at all costs. It’s a high-risk strategy but if a side bats 50 overs they’ll most likely end up well into the 300s anyway—a score that is rarely chased. In this World Cup alone, only three times out of 18 has a 300-plus score been successfully tracked down.

So, working from these musings, who is best placed to take the plaudits at this cricketing carnival? New Zealand are the obvious candidates. McCullum’s men are playing like their rugby counterparts have so often. His brazen approach with the bat has paid dividends so far while Boult and Southee are spearheading the bowling attack with great aplomb: they are currently first and second respectively on the list of leading wicket takers for the tournament.  However, the hosts are yet to break their semi-final duck at World Cups and this run is very much mirroring their 1992 run, the year they last hosted the event, where they topped their group before exiting in the last four.

Australia possess extraordinary batting depth, to an extent where Brad Haddin can come in as low as eight, but they came unstuck against New Zealand in Auckland, and also looked shaky at times with the ball against Sri Lanka: Starc has bailed them out somewhat. Moreover, batting first in all four games has done little to assess their versatility credentials. That said, home advantage and a winning know-how will stand them in good stead as the competition reaches the knockout phases.

Claiming that South Africa have underachieved in the One Day arena would find almost unanimous agreement, and despite the compelling argument for them to break their World Cup duck in 2015, the seeds for another choke are already in place. Untouchable when given first-strike, they have looked a side confused chasing, falling 130 short of India’s 307 in Melbourne, before being skittled for a paltry 202 against Pakistan. Once again, an ICC tournament looks like being South Africa’s kryptonite.

As goes the saying in the sub-continent: “If India and Pakistan never partitioned they would never be beaten,” for the former has the batting might while the Pakistanis have historically reigned supreme with the ball. Alas, we will never know if that presumption would hold true but both have reasons to be optimistic ahead of the latter stages.

Unfancied by many, especially after their tri-series with Australia and England, India have once again turned up to an ICC event and performed. Unbeaten so far, their quick bowlers dismantled West Indies and convincing all-round displays against Pakistan and South Africa gives the defending champions much to be confident about. A likely quarter-final with Bangladesh is an added bonus for MS Dhoni’s men.

Meanwhile, Pakistan announced their revival with a blitzing of South Africa’s power-packed batting lineup in Auckland. They may no longer have the Wasims and Waqars, or the Miandads and Inzamams, but it appears that Misbah-ul-Haq’s men have found some belief. Pakistan’s two ICC victories (1992 World Cup and 2009 World Twenty20) arose following hapless starts. In beating South Africa, we saw glimpses of the old Pakistan. The fiery trio of Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali caused chaos with the ball while Sarfraz Ahmed’s inclusion brought a world-record six catches behind the stumps as well as a mood-setting 49 at the top of the order. Their bowling makes up for what their batting has so far lacked—strength in the former may prove vital. A long shot maybe, but the mercurial Pakistan can never be discounted. They thrive on adversity.

Cricket may be hurtling towards a batsman’s utopia, but in a perverse way, it makes a star bowler all that more instrumental. The ability to thwart the McCullum assault is a far rarer trait than being able to blast the ball beyond the boundary, as is the nous to protect a sub-par total. No, the bowler is still essential. It is far too soon to be scribing their obituary.

Kiwis triumph over England a result defined by captaincy

Watching a merciless New Zealand pulverise England has not been a rare occurrence over the years, but the latest harrowing defeat has little in common with its predecessors.

This was not a battle of 15 against 15. There was no fearsome Maori war dance before proceedings began. This was not rugby. This was cricket. Yet such was the unforgiving brutality of the Black Caps, this procession would not have looked alien had it taken place on a rectangular field.

Procession. This was not a match. A match requires a contest between two teams. After skittling England for just 123, New Zealand needed only 74 deliveries to hunt down their target. They faced no resistance, no struggle. This was not a fight. More, a sacrifice.

The captains personify their teams and their fortunes. There is Brendon McCullum. Baz. Under his attacking leadership, New Zealand have found the concoction to win. In the field, he ratcheted up the pressure wicket after wicket, going for the jugular in a way others wouldn’t. Who else would keep the slip cordon intact well into the mid-section of the innings? There was no consolidating once Tim Southee blasted through the middle-order. No holding him back unless he was needed later. Southee ensured there was to be no later. His seven wickets for 33 marked the best figures by a New Zealander in ODIs as England were all-out with one-third of their innings still remaining.

With rapier in hand, McCullum was equally devastating. A ferocious 77 from 25 sent the Wellington crowd delirious, a barrage of eight fours and seven maximums. He also recorded the fastest 50 in World Cup history. 18 balls. Eighteen.

Then there is England’s captain, Eoin Morgan. The contrast could not be greater. A confidence-shot Morgan had managed three ducks and a two in his four previous innings, and was in the midst of a month-long boundary drought. After making 17 scratchy runs, he was dismissed when a failed drive off Daniel Vettori was snaffled by Adam Milne, who took a magnificent diving catch. While a couple of Southee’s swinging pearlers were simply too good, brainless batting from others was less excusable. Gary Ballance – whose World Cup involvement following a five-month ODI lay-off is mystifying – succeeded only in chipping a shortish ball with width to short cover. Soon after, with England in dire straits, Stuart Broad played a nothing shot that looped straight to Vettori at mid-off – indefensible for a player of his experience. Joe Root, who dug in for an admirable 46, is the only Englishman who can look at his effort from this match with any sense of pride.

Bowling was always going to be a fruitless task, but even the most hardened of pessimists would have been surprised at just how toothless the response was. Two overs for 49 would be some achievement on a video game. But that is exactly what McCullum plundered Steven Finn for. Tame, welcoming bowling saw nine of his 12 balls reach the fence, six of them without bouncing – including four consecutively. Two New Zealand wickets may have fallen in the chase, but their memory will survive only in print. This was their utopian day.

So far, the Morgan era has served only to continue Alastair Cook’s legacy rather than end it. England’s one-day style is meek, scared even. Despite the glut of ODIs in recent months, England are still without ideas to post 300 – a score rapidly becoming the modern-day par – and are clueless as to containing the opposition with the ball.

Losses against Australia and New Zealand – two of the favourites for the tournament – are not terminal for England’s World Cup bid, the nature of the defeats is however, far more telling. Winning the coin-flip twice has resulted in leaking 342, and being bundled for 123. The opposition has been good, but not that good. Qualification hopes rest in beating Scotland, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It isn’t beyond the realms but nothing has been done to instill confidence. Their next match, a meeting with Scotland, may be a virtual knockout. Their reward for beating the trio mentioned would likely see them rewarded with a quarter-final tie against South Africa. Poms, the glass is half-full, right?

It most certainly is for New Zealand. This tournament presents a chance to banish the perennial semi-finalists tag – a feat they have achieved no fewer than six times. Everything is slotting into place. The batting. So powerful. The bowling. So efficient. The fielding. So well drilled. But perhaps most importantly, their leader’s burning fire has engulfed the rest. No longer are New Zealand the tricky, plucky outsiders. Attributed to them now is the ‘fearsome’ tag so regularly applied to their Oceanic neighbour.

Captains in limited-overs cricket can sometimes seem irrelevant in comparison to their Test counterparts. But captaincy runs deeper than who must bowl when, and what field placements should be set. This match described that more eloquently than words ever could.