Bridesmaids last time out, New Zealand have developed into a strong ODI side with a dark horse’s chance at the 2019 World Cup.
Kane Williamson (c), Martin Guptill, Henry Nicholls, Ross Taylor, Tom Latham (wk), Colin Munro, Tom Blundell (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Jimmy Neesham, Ish Sodhi, Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson, Tim Southee, Trent Boult.
The first team to name their World Cup squad, New Zealand have no shortage of experience in their camp. Skipper Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Martin Guptill, Tim Southee and Trent Boult were all key players in the side which made the 2015 final, and there’s plenty of class in tournament newbies like Henry Nicholls and Mitchell Santner.
There were two surprises when the squad was named: Ish Sodhi pipped Todd Astle for the second spinner’s spot, while Tom Blundell was an unexpected pick as backup keeper. Blundell is yet to play an ODI and averages under 30 in List A cricket.
This is a well-balanced side with few notable vulnerabilities. The new-ball pairing of Southee and Boult is one of the most experienced in world cricket. They were critical in guiding the Black Caps to the 2015 decider, and will have to be similarly successful if New Zealand are to have a strong tournament this year.
Santner, while lacking Bolt and Southee’s experience, is a quality spinner capable of keeping the run rate in check, although he’d do well to add more of a wicket-taking threat to his repertoire.
The batting unit, too, has plenty of class and experience about it. Williamson is constantly mentioned in the top handful of batsmen in the modern game, and his textbook perfect technique doesn’t make him a slow scorer against the white ball.
Martin Guptill has a World Cup double century to his name, Henry Nicholls is turning into an international star, and Ross Taylor has one of the most impressive ODI resumes in the competition.
There’s not a lot of flashiness to the side, but there is plenty of quality there.
The lack of a world-class all-rounder could hurt New Zealand. Jimmy Neesham is a middling player who isn’t more than a serviceable bit-part contributor, and while Colin de Grandhomme boasts considerable hitting ability, he’s not suited to doing much more than finishing off an innings with the bat, and his military mediums could be found wanting on England’s small grounds.
They leave the batting depth wanting and put pressure on the likes of Williamson, Guptill and Taylor to bear the brunt of the batting load. This isn’t a side well equipped to deal with early collapses. They were found out on that front against India earlier in the year, when their four losses all came on the back of sub-par efforts with the bat.
Colin Munro’s form is another headache. He’s an elite T20 hitter but hasn’t been able to perform in the ODI arena so far, averaging just 25 for his career (and 22 in the last 12 months).
There’s scarcely a more ideal time for him to find his feet, and if he does, the Kiwis will boast one of the most imposing opening partnerships in the tournament. If not, they’ll have a batting line-up which lacks depth compromised further by a brittle opening partnership.
Few players are as much of a joy to watch for bowling purists as Trent Boult. New Zealand’s spearhead is capable of swinging the ball both ways, has a solid arsenal of change-up options, and produces unplayable deliveries as regularly as anyone else.
While another left-armer stole most of the headlines in 2015, Boult’s World Cup four years ago was outstanding. He actually took as many wickets as Mitchell Starc, although he played nine games compared to the Australian’s eight. Regardless, 22 wickets at an average of 16.8, strike rate of 23 and economy of 4.3 at that tournament tells us Boult is more than capable of rising to the big occasion.
New Zealand have more frailties with the bat than the ball, but a potentially vulnerable order will have far less pressure on it if Boult and the rest of the attack are able to restrict their opponents to sub-par totals. Thankfully for the Black Caps, their strike bowler is capable of doing just that.
Along with our last two sides, South Africa and the West Indies, New Zealand are just as capable of finishing sixth as they are of winning the entire thing. Their eventual tournament finish will no doubt fall somewhere in between.
This is a side which has almost as many top-tier players as any other – Williamson, Boult, Guptill, Taylor and Southee would walk into just about ODI XI – and that elite core is capable of beating anyone on their day. However, there’s not enough depth in the squad to go all the way.