The good buggers at Third Man Cricket are penning us sweet delicious match previews for the World Cup games featuring our men in black hats. Over to you Damien George…
With the hard work done and top spot in Group A safely secured barring a major hiccup, New Zealand has been able to sit back and watch other teams jostle for positions while it enjoys some time at home and a lengthy break. In contrast, Afghanistan, undoubtedly a fan favourite at this tournament, has been given a harsh reminder of exactly how big the gap is between the competition’s top teams and minnows following a demoralising 275-run loss to Australia.
It is hard to know what to make, then, of Afghanistan’s impressive showing against Sri Lanka in Dunedin when it pushed the victors all the way, and could just about have won if not for Thisara Perera’s late onslaught. Its bowling was impressive, as it has been throughout the tournament, with the Zadrans – Dawlat and Shapoor -and Hamid Hassan bowling with vigour and intent, and the slow bowling of captain Mohammad Nabi and flat leg-spinner Samiullah Shenwari backing them up well.
In that match in Dunedin, Afghanistan removed Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lahiru Thirimanne and Kumar Sangakarra with the score at 18, then picked up the fourth wicket at 51. It was only a stubborn partnership between captain Angelo Mathews and old stager Mahela Jayawardene, plus Perera’s hitting, that saved Sri Lanka’s blushes. The side would have gone to Perth in good spirits to take on Australia. A win would not have been expected, but a good showing and a chance to make a statement would have been. Instead, it was flogged for 417, then dismissed for just 142 in a hapless run chase.
It remains to be seen how much the result has damaged the morale and flamboyance of the Afghans. The side has won favouritism for its giant-killing attitude, with the likes of the headband-wearing Hassan and marathon-running Shapoor winning cult hero status in New Zealand.
But Afghanistan will know they could be in for more of the same following their Australian reality check, with New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum in a ruthless mood that has been nothing short of whirlwind even by his standards in this World Cup. The Afghans may, however, be shown some mercy by a New Zealand batting line-up in desperate need of some time in the middle.
Kane Williamson, the hero of last weekend’s Auckland thriller, has looked as good as ever but has only been able to muster scores of 57, 38, 9* and 45*, largely owing to New Zealand’s dominant bowling.
Martin Guptill has likewise looked good but hasn’t made a meaningful contribution since his 49 against Sri Lanka three weeks ago. Ross Taylor has had a dreadful tournament, and he and Grant Elliott will both be desperate for lengthy innings after being shown up badly by Australia’s Mitchell Starc.
Being able to keep the scoring rate in check will be a priority for Afghanistan, but it is capable of striking, and removing McCullum early would greatly lift their spirits. One can only imagine how far Shapoor will run before being caught if he is the man to do it.
The Afghans batting has not been as impressive as its batting, but it does have some capable stroke-makers and has produced some good innings by the likes of Javed Ahmadi, Ashgar Stanikzai, Shenwari and Nabi.
New Zealand’s bowling attack is arguably the strongest in the tournament though, and all eyes will be on McCullum if he wins the toss to see whether he continues his ruthless approach by inserting the Afghans, or acknowledges his batting order’s need of match practice by opting to post a total.
McCullum and the New Zealanders will be respectful of Afghanistan, as they have been of every team in this tournament, and it would not be a surprise to see him give his bowlers the new ball and instruct them to wreak havoc.
With a week between games and a further five days until its next assignment against Bangladesh, it appears unlikely New Zealand will make any changes to its first-choice line-up unless it believes a permanent change is needed. Three games in seven days at the start of the tournament seemed the likely opportunity to give the squad a run.
It sounds like a broken record now, but Mitch McClenaghan must be very close to being seen as a more effective option than Adam Milne. Milne was picked for game one and has been stuck with owing to a desire to keep an unchanged side. It is a commendable approach but a closer look will reveal the young quick has not offered a whole lot to the cause to date and, in the unlikely event both Tim Southee and Trent Boult fail to deliver in a big match, Milne seems unlikely to be the one to turn a game.
There are a few milestones on the horizon for the New Zealanders ahead of tomorrow’s match:
- Daniel Vettori needs just two wickets to become the first New Zealander to take 300 ODI wickets. He currently has 298 at an average of 31.8 and an economy rate of 4.1. In this World Cup, he has taken 8 wickets at 14.75 and an economy of 3.3.
- Tim Southee needs two wickets to become New Zealand’s second-highest wicket-taker in World Cups. He currently has 31 in two World Cups at 15.74, one behind Chris Harris who took 32 at 26.90. Jacob Oram heads the list, with 36 wickets at 21.33. In this World Cup, Southee is the highest wicket-taker with 13 at 13.5, including 7-33 against England.
- Ross Taylor needs just 58 runs to become the fourth New Zealander to reach 5000 ODI runs. He currently has 4942 runs at 41.1, with 12 hundreds and 29 fifties. However, in this World Cup, he has scored just 29 runs at 9.6.
- Brendon McCullum is New Zealand’s highest run-scorer in the World Cup so far with 207 runs at 51.7 and a strike rate of 188. He is 15th in the tournament so far, but just 72 runs behind first-placed Chris Gayle and 26 runs outside the top ten.
About Damian: I’ve been plying my trade as a reporter in New Zealand for the last couple of years, having studied journalism at Massey University in Wellington. This has always taken a back seat to cricket though. From a playing perspective, I turned out for many an age-group rep side as a youngster and played for my school’s First XI for three years. Reporting wise, I was a media liaison at the 2010 Under-19 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand, and was sports reporter at The Blenheim Sun newspaper the same year, where I wrote my own sports column.