Predicting NZ's chances in the Test series against India by individually analyzing the former's important players
22nd of September 2016 marked the beginning of the much-awaited 13-Test Indian home season with the first of the 3-Test series against NZ in Kanpur. Akin to most sub-continent tours, NZ’s primary challenge would be the conditions and the pitches. At the same time, their heroics against the same team in the last WT20 using spin in the form of Sodhi and Santner should not be forgotten. Though this is a completely different format, there is that sense of anticipation that this NZ squad is capable of challenging India in their den. With such hopes on this Blackcaps side, it would be fitting enough if an in-depth analysis of this team can be done and their chances of performing well in this Test series predicted.
Over the past 3 years, NZ have shown tremendous improvement in the longest format. This can be attributed to a few ‘important players’ who have played a bigger role in the team's victories than the others. The team's performance, especially in this series, would depend mainly upon their performances and hence, only these players are required to be analysed. Now, the next big question would be as to who those 'important players' are. One can be rest assured that Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, T Boult and Southee would be a part of this list, but does it end here?
Neil Wagner has put in some improved performances over the past 3 years, especially this year and hence, cannot be overlooked. So, these 5 players would be analysed individually and an overall prediction on the team's chances would be made based on them.
Note: For all the parameters, only matches played in Asia have been considered as we are concerned only about their performance in this series.
Williamson has been great in Asia and his average of 47.61 justifies it. His record against India has also been quite impressive, averaging 38.15 overall and 36.22 in India. Contrary to the myth that overseas batsmen aren’t that good against spin in the sub-continent, Williamson has actually maintained a higher average against spin compared to pace. But, the real catch lies when we explore his performances against different types of bowling. Against both pace and spin, he has struggled against left-arm bowlers compared to right- arm bowlers.
Williamson looks to target the covers and mid-wicket region quite often in the sub-continent, but does so playing with a straight bat and with the full face of the willow. Such technique is required for playing spin well, especially on turning tracks which is reflected in his numbers against spin in the sub-continent.
On the other hand, Williamson favouring those 2 regions has also brought about his downfall on quite a few occasions. About 30% of his total dismissals have come in the following 2 ways:
1. With the left-arm pacer naturally angling the ball away from him, Williamson has looked to push it towards covers, edging it eventually.
2. Versus left-arm spinners, Williamson has been deceived on a number of occasions in judging the turn. He would be shaping up to play towards one of the 2 regions, with the ball eventually going the other way and deceiving him. Though this isn’t too big a weakness, this might just be enough for Jadeja to take control of things.
With a good technique to play spin and a great record inside Asia, against India and against spin, Williamson might just be the trump card for the visitors, with his only weakness being against the left-arm bowlers.
Taylor has also had a good overall record in Asian conditions, racking up an average of about 40. He too has fared quite well against both spin and pace. His good record vs spin reflects in his overall Asian average. Versus pace, he doesn’t seem to have any preferences with respect to left or right arm bowlers as he has done really well against both of them. Against spin though, he seems slightly suspect to left- arm spinners.
Taylor looks to favour square on the off-side and mid-wicket. Despite targeting almost the same regions as Williamson, he is less of a technique player. When pitched on the stumps, he even slog-sweeps it through mid-wicket on quite a few occasions. This type of play might just land him into a bit of trouble in this series because slog-sweeping on turning tracks can prove fatal, even more so if done against the turn, thus possibly explaining his lower average against left-arm spinners.
On the whole, though Taylor has done quite well in Asia and against Spin, his way of attacking left-arm spinners might just put him in a spot of bother with Jadeja in the thick of things.
A lot of Boult’s deliveries have been full, in-swingers to the right hander, as can be seen from the above video.
Boult hasn’t been as effective in Asia as he has been elsewhere. Inside Asia, he has been slightly better against the southpaws than right-handers. This could be due to the fact that his in-swingers to the right-handers can only effect bowled or LBW but the same delivery to the left-hander also brings edges into the equation. With Dhawan being the only left-hand batsman in the top 7, Boult might not be able to enjoy this advantage too much.
Overall, out of 80 innings in which Boult had bowled, he ended wicket less only on 13 occasions (16%), proving his consistency throughout his career. But, he hasn’t shown the same degree of consistency in Asia, having gone wicket-less in 6 innings (34%). The above observation and his comparatively lower performance in Asia can be explained by the fact that there isn’t much swing on offer in sub-continent venues, making him toothless. This is the biggest and most important factor against him in this series.
In spite of this disadvantage, there is still one factor which can work in favour of Boult. Though he is known for picking up early wickets consistently, almost 25% of his total wickets have broken 50+ partnerships, being an efficient partnership breaker too. Even if he fails to pick up wickets upfront, he can come back and redeem himself.
While many would hesitate to consider him as an important member, he will be the surprise package to watch out for in this tour according to me. Though he has played a solitary game in Asia, his recent exploits just could not be overlooked. However, the parameters like left hand vs right hand batsmen, sub-continent and away comparison cannot be applicable for him.
On most of the occasions, Wagner picks up at least 1-3 wickets per innings. He has ended wicket less on only 5 occasions (11.6%), implying that he has been very consistent in picking wickets.
Almost 30% of his total wickets have been partnership-breakers, while 16% are with the new ball, making him an effective partnership breaker. In spite of the fact that he is mostly used as first or second change, he has still delivered with the new ball whenever given adequate opportunities.
Unlike Boult who pitches a lot up to the batsmen, Wagner bowls both full as well as short, back of length deliveries. In fact, 46% of his dismissals have come with the short deliveries. Despite bowling in the mid 130’s, he seems much faster than that, explaining these dismissals. This factor actually tilts things in Wagner’s favour a lot as the pacers have to keep things tight by bowling back of a length when there is no swing on offer in Asian conditions. On the whole, though inexperienced in Asian conditions, Wagner seems to be a very exciting prospect to watch out for in this series due to his consistency and bowling style.
Despite the fact that Wagner can be good upfront, it would be arduous to replace Southee as the latter’s immaculate line and length bowling is perfectly suited for sub-continental pitches and his 29 scalps from 14 innings at 2.82 prove testimony to that fact. Apart from that, he and Boult have developed a good partnership, which would also be difficult to replace in such a short period. Hence, his absence would hurt NZ very badly this time.
With one main player missing out, and only 2 of the remaining 4 looking really set for making it big this series, the visitors will have their task cut out big time, with the chances of success predicted to be around 40-45%. But, this is the time when spinners like Craig, Santner, Sodhi, who have played only secondary roles till now, will have to come to the fore, take responsibility and look to repeat England’s heroics in 2012. If that just happens, then they can give India a run for their money. All in all, a competitive series is on the cards with this current NZ squad not ready to go down without a fight.