New Zealand’s national icon, the Kiwi, is a bird with wings and feathers that cannot fly. In a sense, that has also characterized the Kiwis — a name given to the New Zealand cricket team. They keep reaching the last stages of cricket World Cups, but haven’t won a single one. That’s odd for a proud sporting nation with a long history of playing cricket. Now they’re as close as ever to rectifying the anomaly. Finalists in the 2015 and 2019 ODI World Cups and now the 2021 T20 World Cup, Kane Williamson’s side has the pedigree and nous to go all the way and fly. What are the final steps they need to make that happen on Sunday?
NEED FOR SPEED
New Zealand won the World Test Championship final this year at Lord’s in London with a five-man pace attack. Their opponents, India, chose to play two spinners on a green wicket and paid the price. Dubai is no Lord’s, but pace bowlers have taken more wickets than spinners at this T20 World Cup venue, using the bounce on the wicket along with seam movement, off a smattering of grass. The Kiwis will be tempted to play a fourth specialist pacer in the final, along with the fast bowler, Adam Milne, and the experienced seamers, Trent Boult and Tim Southee.
The player of the match in the World Test Championship final was the towering Kyle Jamieson, who destroyed India with a five-wicket haul in the first innings at Lord’s. He could use his six-foot-eight-inch height to good effect on the Dubai wicket too. Plus, he’s a hard-hitting batsman down the order. Unfortunately, Jamieson is yet to show his prowess in T20 cricket in the limited opportunities he has got since making his debut in the shortest format in November last year, and he has not yet been fielded in the World Cup. It will be a tall bet to throw him into the final. But, as the saying goes, nothing risked, nothing gained.
Glenn Phillips has chipped in with thirties against Namibia and Scotland, and bowled a solitary over for 11 runs in the semifinal. The batting all-rounder, who provides a part-time off-spin option, would be the ideal candidate for replacement if the Kiwis want to bring in a tall pace bowling all-rounder suited to the conditions in Dubai. Another replacement option is bowling all-rounder Mitchell Santner, who also contributed just one over in the semifinal, because skipper Williamson felt his left-arm spin would be vulnerable to the left-handed hitting of Moeen Ali. But Santner is a more experienced campaigner than Phillips, and he’s handy with the bat as well.
The best thing for the Kiwis in their semifinal victory over England on Wednesday is that it came after the early losses of two of the mainstays in their batting — Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson. Opener Daryl Mitchell and South Africa-born Devon Conway stood up to the pressure. Jimmy Neesham provided a high-voltage finish. The depth in the batting augurs well for them in the final. All the more reason to give more teeth to the bowling in the middle overs. Neesham chips in with medium pace, but neither he nor the spinners could stop Moeen Ali in the semifinal.
WICKETS IN HAND
New Zealand showed that batting gets easier at the back end, with a stunning 57 runs in their last three overs to win the semifinal with an over to spare, after the asking rate had climbed to 14 an over. Mitchell was tardy for much of the innings, but having a set batsman in the death overs made all the difference. It showed the virtues of keeping wickets in hand instead of going slam bang bust at the start when batting conditions are hard.
Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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