Over-reliance on top-order axis hurting New Zealand

How cruel a game cricket can be. Kane Williamson produced a quite magnificent unbeaten hundred for New Zealand at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday (March 3) yet he just couldn’t get his side over the line at the end when they needed five runs off the last two balls. New Zealand’s captain could only muster two dots. He will not think anything of a century in defeat.

New Zealand’s batting in one-day cricket is reliant on its top order axis of Martin Guptill opening, Williamson at three and Ross Taylor at four. They have contributed 40.6% of their teams runs in ODIs in the last 12 months. That’s perhaps unsurprising given their positions at the top of the order – they have the most time to bat after all – and the fact that they are the best players.

But there is no doubt that New Zealand’s success often hinges on whether one or more of these three players contributes a significant score. They won the first match in Hamilton off the back of a brilliant hundred by Taylor. Williamson’s 112 not out today in Wellington was so nearly enough to win them this match. When the captain was absent in Mount Maunganui and both Taylor and Guptill failed, New Zealand were comfortably beaten.

Injuries have hampered the Black Caps in this series. A mild strain to Williamson’s hamstring ruled him out of the second match and Taylor pulled a hip flexor during the game at Bay Oval which ruled him out of the third ODI in Wellington. Taking such high-class players out of any team would have an effect of course but New Zealand arguably miss their best batsmen more than most other teams.

That’s because their batting has a significant lack of depth – at least on current form – although Mitchell Santner’s runs in this series from number eight have been a significant boost. The rest of New Zealand’s batsmen have looked truly out of sorts in this series and the unreliability of the middle order in particular has cost them the second and third matches.

Most players in the top seven have questions hanging over them. Opener Colin Munro has scored just three fifties from 18 innings in the past year whilst averaging 28. Tom Latham has passed 40 just once in his last ten ODI matches. Henry Nicholls’ last six innings have read: 0, 52 not out, 1, 0, 1, 0. Colin de Grandhomme is a destructive player at number seven but keeps playing brainless shots. Mark Chapman is new to international cricket and needs time to bed in.

New Zealand have suffered collapses in all three of the matches in this series so far. In the opening game in Hamilton they lost 3 for 27 at the top of the order and then 3 for 10 later on. In the second match, they slumped to 82 for 5, a position from which they never truly recovered. And in Wellington today, they lost five wickets for 23 runs which turned a position of dominance into one of eventual defeat.

It was a calamity of errors at the Westpac Stadium. Munro played nicely until he chipped a catch to cover where Ben Stokes took an acrobatic but regulation catch. Too easy. Chapman advanced down the wicket to nearly every ball from off-spinner Moeen Ali before doing so again and skimming a catch to point. Predictable. Latham missed a straight ball first up. Unforgivable. Nicholls hopefully played for Adil Rashid’s googly but missed it by a foot and was out LBW. Worrying. De Grandhomme holed out to long-off in probably the most ridiculous dismissal of them all. Awful.

When Munro was out, the score was 80 for 2. De Grondhomme’s dismissal left New Zealand 103 for 6. “Starting off in our innings we were in a position of strength after 15 overs but then we stumbled a bit in the middle which really hurt us,” Williamson told Sky Sports after the match. “We just couldn’t hold it together through the middle. When we did lose a couple of wickets we couldn’t play as positively as we would have liked.”

England’s spinners bowled tidily but all of those wickets were gifted to them on a surface which required patience, graft and some good old fashioned strike rotation. Unsurprisingly, Williamson showed the way. He played within himself, knocked the ball into gaps on both sides of the wicket and cashed in on the boundary ball. On a difficult surface, he was the only batsman on either side to play with any real fluency. It was a superb exhibition of batsmanship.

When asked after the match whether he had concerns about the middle order, Williamson was diplomatic: “Not really. It was a game where we didn’t fire. We weren’t at our smartest and we didn’t adjust as well on a tough surface, that’s all it is. The guys have been batting beautifully. Ross looks like he’ll be better for the next game. Tommy [Latham] and Henry Nicholls have both been playing really nicely but it wasn’t to be tonight.”

A captain wouldn’t be expected to say anything else but it is clear that New Zealand need more contributions from their batsmen not only for the rest of this series now they are 2-1 down but also if they are to challenge at next year’s World Cup. Williamson, Taylor and Guptill can’t do it on their own.


Source by cricbuzz..