Fire and ice. Oil and water. Call it what you like but New Zealand’s ICC Cricket World Cup quarter-final against the West Indies is an intriguing clash of styles. It is the drill and discipline of a host nation on a golden run of form – admittedly with a fair amount of flair from the likes of Brendon McCullum, amongst others, thrown in for good measure – up against a line-up of, in the main, instinctive individuals with a form graph that has gone up and down like a boat on a storm-tossed ocean. The West Indies losses to Ireland and South Africa earlier in the tournament and the way they folded in those matches suggested a side that still has scars of the recent off-field ructions and, in the face of that atmosphere, they are a line-up that can cave in under pressure more quickly than a team like the Black Caps that appears to have great togetherness.
That folding in the face of an opposition onslaught was seen against New Zealand last summer, when Corey Anderson and Jesse Ryder pummeled the Caribbean side’s attack to all parts of Queenstown as the home team racked up 283 in just 21 overs in a rain-reduced encounter. But it is also worth remembering that later in that same series the West Indies scored a series-leveling win in Hamilton by handing New Zealand one of its heaviest-ever One-Day International losses, by 203 runs, after scoring 363/4.
That is part of the excitement about this match, wondering which West Indies side will turn up, especially as the talismanic Chris Gayle – who did not play in that Hamilton thrashing – is under an injury cloud with back trouble. The maxim is simple: when they are bad then they are awful but when they are good they are world-beaters. In the West Indies’ favour is a train of thought that in big matches it is individuals who win the day, and there is more than a grain of truth in that theory. Just look at Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the last World Cup final, or Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist in 2003 and 2007 respectively.
On that basis, it is up to McCullum’s men to ensure there is no scope for that individual flair to flourish within the West Indies ranks as, if it does, then that special performance by one player has the potential to carry the rest of the side along in its slipstream. That confirms the need for New Zealand to hit the ground running in Wellington, whether that is with the bat or with the ball and in the field, and not give Jason Holder’s side any time to settle. New Zealand will be confident and they have every right to be after six straight wins in the tournament, the latest of which, against Bangladesh, helped fill in a few pieces of the jigsaw that, up to this point, we had been wondering about.