NZ’s title credentials face stiff examination
In some ways it would be better if this was a Cricket World Cup knockout match for New Zealand.
Beat England at Chester-le-Street tonight and they storm into the playoffs with a much-needed shot of confidence for a likely semifinal against India at Edgbaston.
But if the Black Caps continue their worrying trend of losing series deciders or world tournament matches to England, they limp on to a likely semifinal against a rampant Australia at Old Trafford on the back of three straight defeats.
The schedule helped New Zealand get semifinal certainty (barring some freakish one-sided results in coming days), as did a valuable one point from a washout against India.
They won the tight ones, got value from their allrounders and boosted their net run rate, but didn’t get a gauge on how they match up against the Big Three until Australia swept past them at Lord’s on Sunday.
Now is the ultimate test of New Zealand’s title credentials: beat England and prove they can knock over the heavyweights, ahead of a fourth straight semifinal appearance.
First they need to regain their swagger and go on the attack (former skipper Brendon McCullum), not be so passive with the bat (former coach Mike Hesson) and overcome recent history.
Last time at Chester-le-Street, four years ago with McCullum still at the helm, they arrived for a decider at 2-2. New Zealand picked fast bowler Andrew Mathieson out of nowhere for what turned out to be his only international.
Chasing a Duckworth-Lewis target of 192 off 26 overs, England were rocked by Mitchell Santner’s spin with the new ball (a definite option this time, too). Santner removed Alex Hales, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan cheaply, then Mathieson dismissed Jason Roy with his first ball.
Jonny Bairstow, who scored a matchwinning century against India on Monday (NZT), stole it with an unbeaten 83 off 60 balls, helped by Santner dropping a skier on 56 with the match in the balance.
Two years ago at the 2017 Champions Trophy, at Cardiff, England posted 310 then Kane Williamson (87) and Ross Taylor (39) were the topscorers as the Black Caps folded for 223.
Four years earlier, in 2013, they also bowed out to England in a rainshortened Cardiff contest.
Then in their most recent ODI meeting, in Christchurch in March 2018, the top-five again failed to fire with that series also poised at 2-2 thanks to Taylor’s wondrous knock at Dunedin.
Since that magical February day in Wellington when Tim Southee took 7-33 and England hit rock bottom at the 2015 World Cup, they’ve become a world force and beaten the Black Caps in seven of their 11 ODIs.
With fine weather forecast in the north and little chance of a washout, New Zealand are capable of beating England, but it needs Guptill and Nicholls to set the tone for a positive batting effort in what looks a highscoring match on evidence of the 653 scored by Sri Lanka and West Indies.
With the ball the Black Caps must dent the home side’s powerful top order with more aggressive pace led by their player of the tournament Lockie Ferguson, and possibly some well placed overs from Santner. And field out of their skins and hold their catches.
If England are suddenly out and New Zealand carry winning form against them into the semifinals, it’s a whole new ball game. MCCULLUM’S VIEW