Can fizzy Finn Allen drive New Zealand to ever-elusive World Cup glory?

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Finn Allen starred with the bat against Australia in the T20 World Cup 2022 opener.

(ICC)

Can fizzy Finn Allen drive New Zealand to ever-elusive World Cup glory?

Despite enjoying significant success in the last four World Cup editions, New Zealand endured heartbreaks by failing at the final hurdles. Can the Auckland-born Finn Allen evolve himself as their messiah by continuing to bash enfeeble bowlers at the ongoing T20 World Cup in Australia?

Finn Allen inspired a legion of followers when he bludgeoned Australia’s formidable pace battery, comprising Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, and Pat Cummins, in New Zealand’s ICC T20 World Cup opener in Sydney. Allen’s brisk 16-ball 42, striking at 262.50, included five fours and three sixes, got New Zealand off to a resounding start in a country where they have not managed a single win across any format against their Trans-Tasman rival since December 2011. 

Allen’s cameo, which took the world by storm, set the platform to turn the tide this time for the Kiwis, followed by Devon Conway’s unbeaten 58-ball 92 that helped them pile 200/3 batting first. Their bowlers did the rest, skittling the mighty Aussies for 111 in 17.1 overs in their own backyard to register an 89-run win to finally enjoy that winning feeling on their 16th attempt.

However, Allen’s international career began in the worst possible manner in March last year – a golden duck against Bangladesh in Hamilton. But he has been batting aggressively with sheer audacity ever since, following in the footsteps of his ‘idol’ Kevin Pietersen. His 511 T20I runs from 19 innings might not raise a lot of eyebrows but when a batsman showcases a strike rate of 166.99, you certainly have to sit up and take notice.

After his forgettable debut, Allen made a strong comeback - his following five T20I innings scores read 10-ball 17, 29-ball 71, 10-ball 15, 7-ball 14, and 24-ball 41. Yet, the Black Caps decided he should not be paired with Martin Guptill up top in the last edition’s T20 World Cup in the UAE. Instead, Daryl Mitchell – a much more reliable batter and a handy bowler if required – got the nod. Mitchell did his part in the UAE, accumulating 208 runs in the tournament at 140.54. His numbers were the joint second for his country with Guptill. Yet it was not enough for New Zealand to win that ever-elusive World Cup crown.

However, Guptill and Mitchell are no longer New Zealand’s first-choice openers. Allen has been rewarded with his first proper run, especially after slamming a fiery hundred in Edinburgh against Scotland in July, and Conway’s magnificent T20I record has helped him occupy the other spot. Even in the recent tri-nation T20I series against Pakistan and Bangladesh, Allen’s strike rate of 145.16 for 135 runs was the highest among openers. Overall, at a cut-off of 60 runs, only Glenn Phillips had a better strike rate (180.56) than him in the series.

Moreover, Allen’s blistering knocks allow the other Kiwi batters to play with more freedom rather than keep falling to the pressure of the scorecard. For example, anchor Williamson scored a run-a-ball 23 against Australia before returning to the pavilion, yet they managed to touch the 200-run mark. With all due respect to Williamson, would they have reached there had Allen not provided with such a fluent start?

Since his debut, Allen’s T20I strike rate of 169.06 is the highest among the full-time nations’ openers who have played at least 350 balls on the international circuit. The next three on the list are Jos Buttler, David Warner, and Rohit Sharma which should give anyone a fair idea of how far the Kiwi has progressed. Yes, Allen, at least for the time being, is above some of the most prolific batters in the format’s history as far as power-hitting is concerned.

Finn Allen's strike rate since his debut is the best across the world. © (SportsCafe Graphic Team)

Guptill’s strike rate (120.93) in the last World Cup did not match his lofty standards, and perhaps that was the reason that New Zealand Cricket (NZC) had a decision on their hands. Going back to before the Pandemic, Guptill shattered a billion hearts by running out MS Dhoni with a lightning-quick throw but his record was sub-par. The 36-year-old aggregated a maegre 186 runs from 10 innings, averaging a low 20.66. NZC’s bold move of dropping Guptill – the third-highest all-time T20I run-getters – in the tournament opener paid off as the runner-ups from 2021 took control of Group 1.

Now only time will tell whether Allen can manage to live up to the expectations and continue fireworks but there is no denying that the 23-year-old has brought a missing flavour to his side which they lacked in Guptill in the past two World Cups. Ever since its invention in 1975, they have failed to lift the trophy in 19 attempts (12 in ODIs and seven in T20Is) despite coming all too close on a few occasions. They finished as runner-ups thrice in the last four showpiece events, but it felt like ‘so close yet so far’.  However, if Allen’s range of strokes remains intact for the rest of the tournament, New Zealand, with the potent bowling attack they have got among others, have the serious opportunity to make things happen this time.

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