Covers made frequent appearances ahead of Australia’s game against New Zealand © Getty Images
Rhythm, momentum and form are words usually thrown around at world events, but try telling New Zealand that. As it is, momentum counts for little in Twenty20 tournaments, but New Zealand are just going from one set of extreme conditions to another. They have survived a spitting cobra in Nagpur, but they will be asked to do more thinking and acting on their feet when they meet “big brothers” Australia in Dharamsala.
New Zealand have traveled 1524 km north, and 1.16 km in altitude. Everything in Nagpur felt like it had come out of a drought; here they could not even train because of the incessant rain. In the first week of the tournament, only two out of six matches were not shortened by rain. While New Zealand showed great reading of conditions that did not answer to the conventional definition of a good T20 pitch, they will have to do more of that in Dharamsala.
To begin with, they will have their first look of the pitch only when they arrive for the game on Friday afternoon, because it rained all day on Thursday and the whole ground was covered. Australia captain Steven Smith reckoned New Zealand would go in with three spinners again once they have a look because it is quite dry and it played slow in the qualifiers too. It’s not going to be as straightforward, though. Given the weather, it is unlikely we will get a full game, which combined with a possible wet ball might make it difficult to use that much of spin.
Ross Taylor said spin was likely to play a part based on what he gleaned from the earlier matches here, but there were other factors to be kept in mind. “We have to wait and see what the conditions are like,” Taylor said. “The boundaries are a lot smaller here. In Nagpur the boundaries were so big that you weren’t able to attack the spinners as much as you would have liked because if you didn’t hit the ball 100% you were going to get out caught at the boundary. Rotating the strike played a big part there but here mishits can still go for six even if it does turn. We just have to wait and see.”
Given the slow nature of the pitches, though, New Zealand are likely to continue with their plan of hitting out while the ball is new. They did the same in Nagpur with Martin Guptill and Colin Munro looking for the big hits pretty early on although it might not have come off entirely there. It might also mean Taylor bats lower than Munro and Corey Anderson.
“It is definitely easy to score upfront,” Taylor said. “But you still have to play fearless and aggressive cricket but smart cricket as well. Guptill and Munro’s job is to get us off to a flying start. Some days it will come off and some days it won’t. But this team bats right down to eight or nine, we still have the confidence to go out there and play shots. As I said, if we can assess the conditions batting first, it becomes easier while chasing as well, we understand how hard to go.”
One of the trickier aspects of playing T20 cricket is to adjust on pitches that are not flat, to look at a 140 pitch for what it is and not underachieve while still going for 180. For instance, New Zealand knew as early as the seventh over in Nagpur that they were going to be in the game if they got to 130 or so.
“I think communication becomes a big part of it,” Taylor said. “Guys running out drinks and players who have gone out there having a bit of an idea and passing information back. That becomes key whether you’re batting or bowling. Try and sum up the wicket and adapt as soon as possible.
“Every game is totally different and we need to assess the conditions here and obviously with rain around it could be a shortened game and we might need to change the balance. May be we will not go in with three spinners when the weather is like that and different power options as well.”
This is a short tournament with a lot of travel. New Zealand do not have the advantage of playing in the last match of their group should it come down to net run rate. Therefore the start that they had against India – not just a win but a massive win – was just what they needed, but they can not get carried away. Any chance of that happening would have been taken away by the position they are in: going into a big second match with hardly any training at the venue, only televised matches from last week to go by when it comes to the pitch, and an opposition that will be keen to remind them of the World Cup final defeat last year.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo