Coming in second in the inaugural WTC — and making the final — is a very good return for a Kiwi side that, no matter what they do seem never to quite have the same cache and stardust as the other leading sides in world cricket.
They reached the final on the back of some dominant batting and dangerous pace bowling, just edging out Australia for a place in the final. By my reckoning, they pipped their rivals because of the Aussie’s slow over rate points deduction. Without that, the two sides percentage of points gained was the same, with Australia having the better tie-breaker quotient.
But, rules are rules and NZ make the final. We can look at all their Test performances since the start of the WTC — August 2019 — and map their path to success. There is a small wrinkle in this as the data I’m using includes two Tests versus England at the back end of 2019 that haven’t counted in the WTC points table. Seemingly, the two teams were not due to meet under the auspices of the tournament so even though they did, they didn’t.
I’ve kept that in the analysis as, well, they did play these Tests so they have a bearing on form, selection and so on.
How it played out
The chart below shows the Kiwis first knock scores, compared to their opponents. The red (loss), yellow (draw) and green (win) markers show the final result of the match.
First thing to note is that NZ played in 13 matches in this period, of which only 11 have counted. That’s fewer than most; far fewer than India (17) and England (21) and about a series-worth shorter than Australia (14).
Is that an advantage? Not in itself alone, but paired with the makeup of the series they played I think that did give them and advantage.
NZ’s 11 games were made up of one 3-match series — vs Australia where they lost 0–3 — and four two-match series, which gave them a 1–1 draw (vs Sri Lanka) and three 2–0 wins (WI, Pakistan and India). As each series can earn a side a maximum of 120 points it would seem that the more shorter series a side has helps (if you’re a good side) as you need fewer wins to rack up the points. I suppose it’s a more risky schedule (as if you lose….) so let’s just say NZ made the most of the schedule and points system.
To the games themselves. The chart shows us the Kiwis finished well; they are in good recent form. Since returning from Australia it’s been six wins on the bounce. Very good. The Kiwis are unbeaten at home during the WTC, but have fared less well away, with one win (in Sri Lanka) and four defeats. Schedule again? Maybe: three losses away in Australia stand out as matches where they were second best; let’s say the next Australian tour to NZ will be very keenly watched.
At home, NZ’s first knock average total is 455, giving them an average lead of exactly 200 — that’s always going to be hard for opponents as it brings the follow on and/or the innings victory into play. Indeed, they only needed to bat once in four of their seven home Test wins during the WTC period.
Away, they were less of a run machine — averaging a first knock total of 250 and conceding an average lead of 120 going into the second half of the Test. These are not very often winning positions and they will have to do better than that in the final in June.
New Zealand’s batting: Kane able, others decent
Looking at the first knock data, Kane Williamson stands out. There’s a surprise. But this much?
King Kane scored 17% of NZ’s first knock runs from just 8% of the total innings. That’s seems a lot on his shoulders to me. His average of over 75 across 11 first knock innings. He joined in the stratosphere by Darryl Mitchell, who just qualifies for the chart with four innings. Mitchell, batting at seven has done well, of course, but his average is inflated by an unbeaten hundred last time out. On a pure runs-per-innings basis, he’s on a less-godlike 56.50 — still very good of course. But he ain’t Kane.
That puts him alongside big Kyle Jamieson. He has ambitions to be an all-rounder and his efforts with the bat certainly mark him out as a player who can impact with bat and ball. He too benefits from not outs, two this time.
Otherwise, the NZ batting is….decent. Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls and BJ Watling average close to fifty in the first knock; Ross Taylor a shade over 37 — a little less than Colin de Grandhomme has offered in the middle order.
If New Zealand have a weakness it’s with their opening pair. Tom Latham is blameless, of course. He’s averaged nearly 47 in WTC first knocks, scoring two hundreds and three fifties. Tidy.
At the other end, he was first paired first with Jeet Raval who had, by any yardstick, a disappointing WTC. He averaged under 15 runs in his six first knocks. He was replaced in the side by Tom Blundell who fared little better: averaging under 20 in his eight first knock innings. Blundell, in his defence has been good in the second knock, scoring 244 runs in five innings. For comparison, Raval has batted for a second time on three occasions, scoring a total of just five runs.
So Blundell looks the best pick by a mile and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t open with Latham in the June final.
Kiwi bowling — putting the ace in pace
Everyone in world cricket knows that New Zealand have a fantastic pace attack. Trent Boult and Tim Southee have, at long last, begun to get the respect they deserve. They — along with the experienced and ludicrously effective left arm seam of Neil Wagner, plus new-giant-on-the-block Kyle Jamieson are all in the top right quadrant that marks out the very good.
These four guys took nearly eight in every ten wickets across the WTC, at an average of 22 runs per wicket — and a wicket every 50 balls. Line these four up as opening bowlers and first change on any pitch remotely helpful to seamers — say, Southampton in June for example — and New Zealand have a great chance of taking charge of a match,
Just below the line on the chart, so worse-than-average in terms of strike rate, is de Grandhomme. He’s another good seamer option — especially as Boult, Wagner and Southee have a strike rate of a wicket every 53 balls. A useful man to have around as he averages 38 with the bat too.
Spin: not so much
Where New Zealand are strong with the seam they are somewhat underpowered when it comes to spin bowling.
Since Daniel Vettori played his last Test in November 2014, the Kiwis have struggled to in the spin department. In that time, NZ spinners have taken 146 wickets at 41 apiece, with a strike rate of over 80. This is not ‘top quadrant’ bowling.
No surprise then that New Zealand’s spinners struggled to make an impact in the WTC. They picked three front line spinners during the WTC — William Somerville, Ajaz Patel and Mitchell Santner. All three played in the opening WTC Test, the defeat away to Sri Lanka in Galle. Thereafter the selectors have been chopping and changing between them trying, somehow, to get a tune out of them.
Of the three, Patel made the best fist of it. He took nine wickets at a shade under 30. His strike rate of a wicket every 61 balls and an economy rate of under three is pretty similar to Trent Boult (though in far fewer overs, of course) and actually puts him in the top quadrant alongside the all-star seam attack.
It seems the selectors didn’t fancy him and they left him out for the two homes wins against England and the ill-fated trip to Australia. He came back in for one, wicket-less Test against India in February 2020 but hasn’t been seen since. Maybe the Kiwi selectors are missing a trick here.
Santner seems to be NZ’s go-to spin option, bowling 42% of all overs of spin during the WTC. He was the man with the shirt in Australia and had a pretty darn miserable time.
He played in the Tests in Perth and at the MCG, turning his arm over for 68 overs across four innings, going for 250 runs for a return of a solitary wicket. No wonder Somerville came in for the Sydney Test, though he didn’t have a much better time of it. That was his last outing in the WTC; his eight wickets coming at an average of 45.
Santner is the highest profile of these three spinners but his Test career has been underwhelming. As the chart below shows, in his first six Tests, he announced himself with 14 wickets at under 27 each. A good start. By the end of the WTC, he’d bowled in 22 Tests and his 41 wickets had cost him 44 runs apiece. Nothing like the trajectory of his early career.
Indeed, Santner had a pretty wretched WTC period. He bowed three balls shy of 200 overs, taking just seven wickets for a scarcely-believable strike rate of a wicket every 171 balls. That’d be him bowling for almost a whole session to get a wicket — from both ends. He’s economical enough, going at 2.7 an over — but a bowling average of 78 must keep the Kiwi selectors awake at night.
No wonder then, in the final WTC match, against Pakistan in Christchurch, New Zealand leaned into their strengths and played five seamers instead.
New Zealand are a good team but one, perhaps, that have overachieved in qualifying for the WTC final.
Kane Williamson is one of the greats of the modern era and outperformed the rest of the ‘Big Four’ (Root, Kohli and Smith — just) across the WTC. Supported by decent but not spectacular batting team mates, New Zealand did enough — mainly at home — to finish in the top two. The conundrum of who should open with Latham looks to have been resolved by Tom Blundell.
They were unbeaten at home in no small part thanks to their wonderful pace attack helping them to very healthy leads. Boult, Southee and Wagner are now supplemented by Jamieson, whose explosion into the Test arena has marked him out as a player to watch in the coming decade. Genuine all-rounders are rare and should be cherished when we have them. Let’s hope New Zealand consider his workload and make sure he remains a centrepiece of their Test side for years to come.
The Kiwi weakness is a glaring: spin. Santner is the most experienced and seems to be the go-to guy. He’s a bit of throwback: a left arm spinner who closes up one end — maybe with the pacemen that’s all they need — but his strike rate and average would embarrass a part time spinner and surely — surely! — he, or someone else, can do better than that.
For the WTC final, New Zealand look like less of a world class outfit than India. They lack where India have abundance. But England in June will play to their strengths. If Williamson fires — and he normally does — and the rest of the top order chip in, the Kiwi quicks may prove too hot to handle. As they have with home advantage in the WTC, so they may do on the familiar-ish pastures of Hampshire and turn favourable conditions into a decisive advantage.
And if they do, who could possibly begrudge them?