With the English Test summer now over, Richard Mann turns his attention to the T20 World Cup and makes the case for backing New Zealand in his Antepost Angle column.
2pts New Zealand to win the T20 World Cup at 9/1 (Sporting Index)
NEW ZEALAND are the best cricket team in the world and can cap a remarkable year by winning the T20 World Cup in Dubai on November 14.
The Black Caps won the ICC World Test Championship Final when beating India in Southampton earlier this summer, producing the type of commanding display that strongly suggested we might be about to witness a period of dominance from New Zealand. India’s subsequent performances against England only serve to pay further compliment to Kane Williamson’s wonderful side.
Like all great teams, New Zealand’s success in red-ball cricket has been built on the foundations of a fine battery of fast bowlers, led by the outstanding Trent Boult and manfully supported by a varied group who all bring something different to the party.
It’s much the same in T20I cricket, with Boult again the leading light and joined by Tim Southee, Lockie Ferguson and Kyle Jamieson. Boult and Southee can be relied upon to provide skill and experience, while Ferguson offers genuine pace and Jamieson height and bounce. The fact Adam Milne – one of the leading performers in The Hundred – hasn’t even made the final squad demonstrates the strength in the bowling ranks. Spin is covered, too, with Ish Sodhi, Mitchell Santner and Todd Astle.
Boult has been a remarkable cricketer, taking over 500 international wickets across three formats to date, and his performances when the 2020 Indian Premier League was staged in the UAE will have him relishing the World Cup being played on the same shores. Boult was outstanding in that tournament, consistently swinging the new ball and picking up 25 wickets – mainly top order batsmen. If he can do the same again in the T20 World Cup, the Black Caps should make the early inroads that will set up matches for their spinners and, of course, Ferguson.
The latter was one of the stars of the 2019 50-over World Cup in England and bowls a terrific yorker at the death. His pace is a rare commodity which will be invaluable in the subcontinent, though Sodhi’s wrist spin and Santner’s guile and craft might well prove to be the Kiwis’ trump card. Both might be unheralded, but Sodhi’s record in this form of the game is excellent and he performed really well in his recent spell in the Vitality Blast for Worcestershire, picking up 11 wickets at an economy rate of 7.68. Like Sodhi, Santner finished the 2016 T20 World Cup in India with 10 scalps to his name – the pair sitting joint-third in the tournament wickets list – and he will be in the UAE for the conclusion of the IPL right before the World Cup takes place.
New Zealand made it as far as the semi-finals in 2016 before losing out to England, and while their attack boasts many of the same performers – just with some added depth and more experience – it is the batting that really excites.
While Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill had Corey Anderson and Colin Munro for support five years ago, a new breed of batsmen promise to take the T20 side to the next level. Despite strong performances in franchise cricket recently, there is no room in the squad this time for Munro, with the likes of Devon Conway, Glenn Phillips, Tim Seifert and Daryl Mitchell greatly impressing over the last 18 months.
Since suffering a 5-0 whitewash at home to India in early 2020 – actually losing consecutive matches in that series on super overs – New Zealand have made rapid strides forward in this format, winning four series on the bounce and building a formidable batting line-up in the process.
The subsequent 2-0 defeat of West Indies in November 2020 set the ball rolling as the Kiwis amassed scores of 179/5 (15.2 overs) and 238/3, rising stars Devon Conway and Glenn Phillips doing plenty of damage, while it was Tim Seifert’s turn to take the limelight when New Zealand beat Pakistan 2-1 a few weeks later.
When Australia travelled to New Zealand the following February, the hosts kept up that momentum by winning a competitive series 3-2 and scoring heavily with the bat in the three matches they won. Guptill and Conway led up front once again, while that pair showed up well once more when New Zealand amassed scores of 210-3, 173/5 (17.5 overs) and 141/4 (10 overs) in their 3-0 defeat of Bangladesh.
Just as in Test cricket, New Zealand appear to have been building something special over the last 18 months. The fast bowling stocks are typically strong, the spinners miserly and the new breed of batsmen as intimidating and dangerous as Guptill has been for a while now.
Guptill can be such a destructive force on his day at the top of the order, but unlike in previous years, he isn’t alone in a line-up which since the retirement of Brendon McCullum, has relied too heavily on the former to provide fireworks, but can now call upon any number of names to fill the same role. If Guptill doesn’t get you, Seifert or Phillips – just as we have seen in the Caribbean Premier League and The Hundred recently – probably will. Lancashire and Birmingham Phoenix fans will have seen how dangerous a batsman Finn Allen is this summer, so the fact he hasn’t even made the World Cup squad tells you about the batting strength within this Kiwi group.
Perhaps most crucially, I think this New Zealand outfit has the ability to be versatile and play in different ways depending on the pitches they are presented with in Dubai. While the names listed above have power and muscle to rival even England, in Kane Williamson they have the best player of spin in the world and a man you can usually rely on if things turn ugly and the surfaces become worn and slow.
The fact is that nobody really knows just what to expect from the UAE so soon after hosting the conclusion of 2021 IPL, but if the surfaces are at all tough to bat on come the latter stages of the tournament, the likes of Williamson will become crucial. This format might be rapidly becoming a muscle-fest, but pitches dictate everything in cricket and the best sides have most bases covered. Don’t be fooled into thinking Williamson isn’t fit for T20, either: Williamson was the leading runscorer in the 2018 IPL with his 735 runs coming at a strike-rate of 142.44.
The fact Williamson is an excellent captain helps New Zealand’s cause, too. It’s not always a given and as Eoin Morgan has demonstrated time and time again, a cool head like the one Williamson also possesses is priceless in modern-day, white-ball cricket. With an excellent squad at his disposal, one packed full of variety and boasting a nice mix of experience and exciting young batting talent, Williamson has all the weapons in his armoury to lift his second ICC trophy in the space of just a few months and continue the crest of a wave that New Zealand cricket is currently riding.
A second string New Zealand team has just been in Bangladesh contesting a closely-fought T20 series and while none of that squad will be at the World Cup, there will still be plenty of learning to come out of the tour for the Kiwi coaching staff, before a subsequent tour of Pakistan will see a few of the first-choice World Cup squad ramp up their preparations.
Perhaps most pleasing for New Zealand fans will be how competitive their second-string were in the alien conditions of Bangladesh – only going down 3-2 - considering an Australia team featuring the likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Adam Zampa, Matthew Wade and Mitchell Marsh were hammered 4-1 by the same opposition just a few weeks previously. It certainly shows the depth of New Zealand cricket in a good light.
On the subject of Australia, I find it remarkable to see they are as short as 7/2 (13/2 best price) in the outright market given the current weakness of their white-ball cricket. As fun as it is, the Big Bash has dipped dramatically in terms of standard of play and the fact so many big-money buys from Australia have flopped at the IPL recently suggests they are struggling to keep pace. Australia captain Aaron Finch wasn’t even picked up in the 2021 auction, while Steve Smith was axed by Rajasthan Royals before compatriot Ricky Ponting found room for him at Delhi Capitals. That has yet to work out and David Warner’s slump continued when his poor form forced him to quit as captain of Sunrisers Hyderabad and bench himself back in the spring.
These are the same players who will now be tasked with driving Australia to World Cup glory and while the pace stocks – in the first rank at least – remain strong, the batting just isn’t good enough. That they are shorter in the outright betting than New Zealand is, frankly, beyond belief.
They’ll be outgunned by England in Group 1, and possibly both West Indies and South Africa. West Indies made light work of Australia when winning a T20 series 4-1 between the two sides in July, while South Africa have just started to show signs of late that they might be slowly on their way back. Both are a bigger price than Australia, and in the case of West Indies, that looks plain wrong.
As for England, their batting depth in white-ball cricket remains frightening, though I’m not the only one with concerns about the form of the aforementioned Morgan, while the all-out attack style he has bred into this group might not work so well if they are faced with some slow, low spinning pitches. It hasn't happened, but having someone like Joe Root in their squad for such an eventuality would have allowed England to cover more bases.
Above all else, it is the loss of Jofra Archer that really worries me and in these conditions, the death bowling might just get found out. Mark Wood would usually be a banker, but he will have to be carefully managed with the Ashes so soon after, while Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali will be forced to carry the spin burden.
England are currently second favourites behind India, who should be right at home given the conclusion of the IPL will run before the World Cup in the same country. As in Test cricket, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul promise to form an imposing opening partnership, and there is plenty of class and power in the middle order.
Virat Kohli’s own form would need to improve, though, for all he will be able to select from some excellent spin bowlers and a pack of pacemen who have learnt from some tough experiences in the IPL. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is an obvious example of that and Kohli will be desperate to have him fit to partner the brilliant Jasprit Bumrah.
I do think India are the right favourites, but at this stage, 5/2 is the correct price and provides very little leg room. New Zealand, on the other hand, scream of value at 9/1.
Both will need to make it out of Group 2, but with Afghanistan’s participation now surely in doubt, only Pakistan should realistically stand in their way.
That’s not to downplay the threat Pakistan pose to any side, and in Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan they have a brilliant opening pair. The problem for them is a flaky middle order and the lack of a proper finisher. It will hurt them, and not even such a dangerous pace attack and their usual strong hand of quality spinners promises to be enough to make up for weaknesses elsewhere.
Furthermore, part of Pakistan’s charm is their unpredictability and in a World Cup, one where they will have to meet an Indian side who have had the wood over them in ICC events over the years, I’m not sure they’ll have enough to progress to the latter stages.
I certainly don’t think they are as streetwise as New Zealand, or indeed, on quite the same level of upward trajectory, and I wouldn’t have them priced up within a point or so of the Kiwis.
In fact, New Zealand look big value from whichever way you look at the market – more so following the announcement of the various squads – and with 9/1 still available in a place (Sporting Index) and 8/1 available generally, now is the time to make a move.
Published at 1805 BST on 12/09/21
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