Intriguing Clash Of Styles In Wellington

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.
Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor and Grant Elliott all spent time in the middle, and the fact the middle and lower orders both got the chance to bat under pressure in a chase will stand everyone in good stead ahead of the sudden death action, even allowing for the fact that the level of pressure from hereon in will be of a completely different magnitude.  The need to start the quarter-final well is even more important from New Zealand’s perspective because of the weight of expectation that has been built up around this team – and rightly so because of its stellar recent performances.
The belief within the country is that the Black Caps can win the World Cup for the first time and if New Zealand’s one bad day were to come in this quarter-final or the semi-final then that would really burst the bubble of a great feel-good factor for the home audience.  As for the line-up for the match, the selection has been very consistent so far with colours nailed firmly to the mast right at the outset, that the eleven that started the tournament was the preferred option and only injury or a chronic loss of form would derail that line of thinking.  I cannot see that changing now and so on that basis the only issue to consider is, if Adam Milne has recovered from the shoulder injury that sidelined him against Bangladesh, whether he returns in place of Mitchell McClenaghan.
Otherwise it is very much as you were with the emphasis on Trent Boult and Tim Southee with the ball – and looking for swing, something the West Indies batsmen always appear susceptible against – and Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson with the bat to set the tone for those that follow.  McCullum did indicate post-match against Bangladesh that he was not entirely content with the level of focus in the field in Hamilton and he has said on numerous occasions in the past that for his team to compete at the very highest end of the spectrum it has to be saving every possible run and holding every possible catch.
I do not think commitment of that kind will be an issue against the West Indies as if you cannot be focused for a match like this then you will never be focused.  And the captain and coach have the belief in the players, something that will breed confidence within the group.  Nerves will be there, of course they will.  The fact New Zealand is three games away from lifting the World Cup for what would be the first time, as well as playing on home soil will be enough to generate those, you can be sure of that.
Maintaining the attitude and approach that has stood the Black Caps in such good stead over the past year or so should be enough to carry the day and night and book a semi-final spot.  But against such an unpredictable side as the West Indies that has some fantastic match-winners then anything could happen.  Which makes the match all the more exciting to contemplate.