Cricket: The Black Caps are putting up a good fight in the T20 World Cup.

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Analysis – It was a truism in Twenty20 cricket that your best batters needed to face as many balls as possible.


Tim Seifert of New Zealand

Tim Seifert performed well, Hamish Bidwell says. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

New Zealand were too cute by half, in their first-up loss to Pakistan at the men’s T20 World Cup.

The batting order became a moveable feast, in the search for favourable “match-ups” and late-innings hitting and their total of 134/8 batting first in Sharjah was never going to seriously test Pakistan.

There was a bit of huffing and puffing afterwards about the calf injury to fast bowler Lockie Ferguson, and the regulations that stopped like-for-like replacement Adam Milne coming into the side, but the issue here was batting and the batting order.

Let’s start at the top.

The Black Caps boast a few opening options, such as the well-performed Tim Seifert and Devon Conway. Beyond that, there are Finn Allen and Colin Munro, neither of whom were deemed good enough to make the tournament squad.

Never mind that Munro and Allen remain among the few sought-after New Zealanders on the franchise Twenty20 circuit, the Black Caps curiously don’t rate them.

Instead, as was the case in the warm-up fixtures, New Zealand sent out Martin Guptill and Darryl Mitchell to open the innings.

Guptill will go down among the great New Zealand limited overs’ batters, but he is living off past glories. In fact, asked about his lack of form ahead of the Pakistan match, Guptill sought to remind people of his performances at the last T20 World Cup.

Fair enough, but that was in 2016. I rest my case.

The most egregious error here, though, is in the sudden reliance and elevation of Mitchell.

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There is hardly a club side in New Zealand that doesn’t boast a Darryl Mitchell. That bloke who does a bit of this and a bit of that and kind of bluffs his way through.

Fake it till you make it, and all that.

It’s a credit to Mitchell’s self-belief and ability to take the surprising amount of chances that have been given to him by the Black Caps, but he is a man playing way above his station.

As part of the over-thinking that’s rife in Twenty20 cricket, innings’ have become broken up into three parts. You have the initial six-over power play, the accumulation phase from overs seven to 15 and then the final five-over flurry.

Conway, it seems, can’t open the batting now, because he has to shepherd the team’s hitters to over 16. That’s why Seifert and Glenn Phillips batted seven and six, respectively, in the loss to Pakistan.

Never mind that Seifert, like Conway, has opened with success for New Zealand. Never mind that Phillips is regularly among the top run-getters in the Caribbean Premier League from a batting position in the top-four, the Black Caps are going to reinvent the wheel.

Take Jimmy Neesham’s rise to No.4 in the order against Pakistan.

A notion has taken hold that only left-handers can play certain bowling, just as right-handers should only face bowlers who bring the ball back to them. If it’s, say a left-arm orthodox bowler or a legspinner who’s bowling, teams have to inject a left-handed batter.

If it feels like I’m getting too deep in the weeds here, trust me, it’s nothing compared to the over-analysis that teams are indulging in as they search for the elusive perfect match-up.

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It goes back to things such as baseball and the analytics that show you ideally want a left-handed batter to face a left-handed pitcher and vice versa. It’s about hitting arcs and that kind of thing.

Add in the variables – as the teams themselves do – such as the direction the wind’s blowing and which side of the ground has the shortest boundary and you can make the relatively simple task of seeing the ball and hitting the ball seem extraordinarily complicated.

I see why Guptill is playing. I recognise the quality of his career record and standing within the team and concede he probably has to be in the XI.

Me? Well, given who’s at their disposal in the UAE, I’d open Conway and Seifert, have captain Kane Williamson at three, followed by Phillips, Mitchell, Neesham and the bowlers.

It’s a shame Allen and Munro aren’t there. Ross Taylor, too, given how overs seven to 15 tend to be played, but the Black Caps have made their bed.

Allrounder Colin de Grandhomme has been an important part of this team but, unlike one or two others, his recent lack of form meant he wasn’t deemed worthy of retention.

I wrote before this tournament that New Zealand loomed as genuine dark horses, but I did that on the basis of simplicity.

The Black Caps, in all forms of the game, don’t boast too many outstanding players. But they have given people defined roles, which they’ve each played to the best of their ability, to help make the team greater than the sum of its parts.

New Zealand over-complicated it against Pakistan. They put square pegs in round holes and they won’t progress from their group if that continues to be the policy.

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Frankly, their batting would improve out of sight simply by making sure their best players are in the position to face as many balls as possible.


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