Who has scored four golden ducks in the 2019 World Cup and has a batting average of 11.85? It’s not one particularly out-of-form batsman, it’s actually a pair of out-of-form batsmen.
Those figures belong to New Zealand’s opening partnership from their last seven matches.
Martin Guptill and Colin Munro started the tournament in fine style, putting on an unbeaten 137 to chase down Sri Lanka’s total.
This promising opening matched turned out to be a false dawn. In the Kiwis’ seven subsequent matches, the highest opening partnership has been 35 and the longest their openers have lasted is 9.2 overs.
By comparison, the average opening partnership across all teams at the tournament is 44.37 – meaning the Black Caps’ opening partnership in their last seven games has performed about 75 per cent worse than the average.
These poor performances have put immense pressure on the middle order. Three times now, Kane Williamson had to stride to the middle in the first over. Twice, he faced the second delivery of the innings.
The job of an opening partnership is to create a solid foundation for the rest of the order to flourish. New Zealand’s openers have been setting a foundation for their team on the softest of sands.
In their earlier games, excellent performances by Williamson, Jimmy Neesham and Ross Taylor enabled the Black Caps to score enough runs to defeat Bangladesh, Afghanistan, South Africa and the West Indies.
However, this flimsy top-order meant they were unable to put enough runs on the board to seriously challenge Pakistan, Australia and England.
In some respects, New Zealand have bought these struggles upon themselves. They started the tournament with two openers, Guptill and Munro, who are effective on flat wickets but lack the technique to succeed in testing conditions. Their backup, Henry Nicholls, is a converted middle-order batsman who has only played six of his 43 matches as an opener and averaged 22 in those games.
So, what are the side’s options?
If they stick with any two of Guptill, Nicholls or Munro, they are relying on batsmen who have so far shown an inability to deal with the best bowlers in the world in difficult conditions. Their most technically adept batsmen are Williamson and Taylor, however they are firmly ensconced at three and four, and neither have opened in one-day internationals.
The only other alternative is Tom Latham.
Latham has been an effective opener in ODIs, averaging 46 in 37 innings, but he is also their wicketkeeper and opening may be too much of a burden to place upon a relatively inexperienced keeper, who has endured a tough tournament with the gloves.
Latham has also been having his own struggles with the bat, averaging only 16 across the World Cup, although he will hope his score of 57 against England may herald a return to form.
Barring the most extraordinary of results, the Kiwis will make the semi-finals. However, if their openers are unable to set a more stable foundation, then it is likely that their World Cup will end having been little more than a speed-hump on Australia or India’s path to the final.