Tuesday, 24 March 2015

New Zealand are magic

Trent Boult rips a ball past the outside edge. Matt Henry jars one into the splice. Grant Elliott backhands one past the stumps. Brendon McCullum chases a ball down like it’s a baby in a pram rolling towards a cliff. New Zealand are at Eden Park, but it feels like the Colosseum.

South Africa are present, but barely. After three overs they have 20, the next ten harvest 23, painfully eked out off the edge and the splice. A lot is made of Brendon McCullum’s tactical brilliance, but it’s overstated. What really sets him apart is his extraordinary commitment in the field (helped by his perpetual motion legs) and willingness not to let the game drift.

His captaincy is inventive, but like an inventor, sometimes it blows up in his face. It wasn’t a game changing mistake, but giving Trent Boult a seventh over in his first spell was the wrong move, as Boult dropped short repeatedly, showing that slight fatigue that should have been spotted and gave away twelve. 

Brendon McCullum’s natural leadership style has dovetailed with the current ODI playing conditions. As teams have put more emphasis on building through the innings and exploding at the death, McCullum has attacked with the new ball and forced opponents to pick their poison.
Either they attack and risk losing too many wickets, or they defend and reduce the platform to launch from. Australia made the former mistake, forgetting that in the battle between high class swing and big hitting, the bowlers will win. England made the latter mistake. 

But with the bat, where they’ve zigged, he’s zagged, swinging like a windmill at anything that comes along, and dispatching most of it into the outfield or the stands. For most teams, 59 is a decent score from an opener, but one in which the opener failed to see it through. McCullum doesn’t even think of seeing it through. If he did he could score 300.

Kane Williamson is so often a totemic figure in the New Zealand batting that, measured elegance the other pole to McCullum. Even though it seems silly to think it now, after he fell I almost conceded the game for them. It seemed like the perfect combination: a quick innings from McCullum to bring down the required rate, and a big one from Williamson to take it deep and leave the death over hitters a manageable task. 

But when he under-edged a pull, his reaction showed how crucial he knew his role was. The zing bails lit up and Williamson bowed his head and trudged off. When Ross Taylor ran out Martin Guptill, the other main candidate for a big innings, it was left to Elliott and Anderson.

Grant Elliott was batting a place too high. Grant Elliott’s bowling lacked much of anything. Grant Elliott barely made the squad. Grant Elliott won a World Cup semi-final with a six.

New Zealand are magic.

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