England vs New Zealand, World Cup 2019 final: Kane’s one-man bat seeks support

Will the real Martin Guptill stand up please? Wowing the world with a rocket-arm throw that sent India into depression and the rest of the world into a tizzy is fine and dandy, but it’s time he focused on sending fielders on a leather hunt. Kane Williamson would hope that is the case on Sunday. So would coach Gary Stead. But this is New Zealand. They don’t pressure individuals. If need be, Williamson will once again soak in the pressure of a top-order failure. And then Mitchell Santner will crank up pressure in the middle overs by bowling wicket-to-wicket, to bring the Black Caps back into the game. This is a team game where no man is left behind. And New Zealand revels in it.

Against an England side stacked with once-in-a-generation talents at their prime, however, New Zealand can’t be just a team. More individuals need to come into their own. It won’t be easy playing against the hosts at the home of cricket in front of screaming and singing fans. The only possible way to be heard is to make a quick impression. Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson have been doing it pretty well, and at a fair click too.

But the batsmen need to invoke the beast mode of Brendon McCullum if New Zealand are to respond to England’s batting that runs deep. McCullum was at Lord’s Saturday afternoon. Eoin Morgan bumped into him before making his way to the indoor tennis court for the press conference. The England captain shared how McCullum’s captaincy had influenced his leadership, inspiring the hosts to turn a corner and orchestrate a most pleasing comeback.

McCullum has also inspired a generation of buccaneering batsmen that has redefined New Zealand’s approach to the shorter formats—Guptill, Colin Munro and James Neesham being some of those in the current squad, besides Corey Anderson. They and Ross Taylor are the reason Indian Premier League franchises break the bank at auctions. And yet, New Zealand’s batting has been the most underwhelming, if you don’t consider Williamson’s patient, measured knocks for a moment, and Ross Taylor’s crucial effort in the semi-final.

They are the only side among the semi-finalists to not cross 300 in the tournament. Sure, their bowling was top-class to begin with and the pitches haven’t been the most conducive for stroke-play. Still, England, India, Australia, and even Pakistan, at times have made things happen out of nothing. Beginning well has been the real problem for New Zealand, especially for Guptill. “I’ve put a lot of time in and for it not to be working out in the middle, it’s frustrating,” Guptill was quoted as saying on a radio show. “People can say they’re frustrated with me, but no one is more frustrated than what I am.”

Taylor, in particular, struggled to put away the slow bouncers from Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya. Change of pace too flummoxed him, though he hung in there and made it count in the end against India. Still, Williamson would have hoped to get more support. Guptill and Taylor should be the ideal foil to their skipper’s style of batting. But it has been an almost one-man show in the tournament.

Williamson was restrained, almost defensive, while responding to a query if New Zealand need to fight fire with fire as England openers Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow have made it a habit of setting the tone with attacking batting. “It is impossible to say at this point in time because we just don’t know what the surface has in store and what a good total is for the team batting first or the team bowling first,” said Williamson. Bowling has brought New Zealand far. But Williamson’s centuries against South Africa and West Indies were the reason they managed to hang on to a positive net run rate and squeeze past Pakistan into the semi-finals. It has been that kind of a campaign for New Zealand.

On Sunday though, New Zealand won’t have any excuse if they fail to land the trophy due to another top-order batting failure. The law of averages may finally catch up with Williamson like it did with Rohit Sharma. And we all know how that ended for India.

The onus thus is on Guptill in particular. He doesn’t have to back up too much to seek inspiration. Remember the unbeaten 237 against West Indies in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final that was mind-blowing, even for Chris Gayle? Guptill went about that innings with such authority the result was a foregone conclusion at the break. And in March last year, Taylor blasted a 147-ball 181—coming in with the team reduced to 2/2—against England, to ace a seemingly impossible chase in Dunedin. The World Cup final will be a whole different game if Guptill and Taylor can turn the clock back.

First Published:
Jul 14, 2019 10:56 IST

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