World T20 - Semi-Final 1 Preview : England's batting fire-power against New Zealand's spin overdose

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Image Courtesy: © Facebook - ICC

World T20 - Semi-Final 1 Preview : England's batting fire-power against New Zealand's spin overdose

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Amlan Majumdar


Over the years, New Zealand have always managed to overachieve in ICC tournaments, while England have mostly failed to live up to expectations. Both the teams have won only one major ICC tournament in limited overs cricket – New Zealand won the ICC Champions Trophy in 2000, while England lifted the 2010 World T20 – yet, the scale of measurement has always been different for these two sides.

New Zealand has been the perennial carrier of the 'underdog' tag, and on a good day experts would have marked them as the 'dark horse'. In the past, they were an expert in floating under the radar, with the spotlight firmly on their more-illustrious opponents. In the 11 ODI World Cups so far, they have reached six semi-finals and the final in the 2015 edition – despite such consistency, they have seldom gone into a big tournament as one of the favourites.

It was not so different for them this time around. The retirement of Brendon McCullum ahead of the tournament took away the spotlight from them once again. It was difficult to predict how they would perform in the subcontinent, having not played in Asia since 2014. Yet, here they are in the semi-final as the only unbeaten side, and the one which has looked the most-convincing of all the teams.

Kane Williamson, guided by Mike Hesson, has shown maturity beyond his years. While experienced captains have struggled to read the conditions, the 25-year-old has not been shy to make drastic changes to his team based on the pitch they are playing on.

He has left out Trent Boult and Tim Southee so far, and the duo are unlikely to make an appearance in the semi-final as well. Against India, he picked three spinners and scuttled out the hosts for just 79 runs on a turning Nagpur track. In Dharamsala, he replaced Nathan McCullum with the pace of Mitchell McClenaghan and defended a score of 142 against a strong Aussie batting line-up. He retained the same combination on a pace-friendly Mohali wicket against Pakistan, before replacing Adam Milne with Nathan McCullum for the spin-friendly pitch of the Eden Gardens against Bangladesh.

The only test they have avoided so far is to chase down a target. In all of their four group matches, the Blacks Caps have batted first and if England set them a target in the semis, it will be interesting to see how this New Zealand batting order reacts. There has been no stand-out performer in their batting order so far - Martin Guptill played a brilliant knock against Pakistan, Williamson and Colin Munro took them to a defendable total against Bangladesh, Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi helped them reach 126 against India, while nearly everyone contributed in the win against Australia. They are not dependent on one player, and that could be prove to be the big difference in the big matches.

Their opponent, England, has shown a similar trait as well. While Joe Root has been their highest scorer with 168 runs – second-highest after Virat Kohli in the main stage of the tournament - everyone from Jason Roy to Jos Buttler has contributed. If anything, they have more firepower in their batting line-up than New Zealand.

They chased down a mammoth target of 230 runs against South Africa with Root playing a dazzling innings of 83. Their deep batting line-up enables the top-order to take risks in the powerplay overs, and except the match against Sri Lanka, they have been off to flyers. Against Sri Lanka they showed that even if the top-order fails to provide a quick start, the lower-middle order is more than capable of scoring at a fast pace in the death overs.

England's bowling seems to be their weak link at this point. Chris Gayle took them apart in Mumbai, South Africa posted 229 at the same Wankhede again, Shafiqullah and Afghanistan gave them a scare in Delhi, while Angelo Mathews nearly took Sri Lanka home in their last game.

Unlike Williamson, Eoin Morgan has not tinkered too much with his team so far. He played an unchanged team against South Africa, despite losing the first game to West Indies. In Delhi, he made two changes – and one of them was forced as James Vince replaced Alex Hales, who was out with a stiff back.

An advantage that Morgan does have over his counterpart is the fact that his team has already played two matches at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, and are already accustomed to the pitch, having won both of their games here.

The Kotla pitch will remain on the slower side, despite the presence of a bit of grass. It is unlikely to be a high-scoring game, and New Zealand have a better set of spin bowlers to exploit the slow track. Among the bowlers who have played only in the Super 10s stage, Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi are the top-two wicket takers, with nine and eights scalps respectively in their four matches, and how the England batsmen play them might decide the outcome of the game. They have struggled against Rangana Herath and Jeffrey Vandersay in their match against Sri Lanka, while Afghanistan's Rashid Khan troubled them with his leg breaks and googlies.

New Zealand will go into this match as the favourites on paper, but not by much though. In the previous four meetings between these two teams in World T20s, it has been two wins each. However, England have mostly dominated New Zealand in T20s with eight wins in 13 matches so far. The Black Caps won't mind being labelled as the 'underdogs' by the statisticiansthough, because that's when they are at their best.

* All Images Courtesy: © Facebook - ICC

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