New Zealand batting unit clicking at the right time ahead of the World Cup
New Zealand batting © Getty Images
When the fourth ODI between New Zealand and India began in Queenstown on Tuesday (February 22), the series was all but lost. With the visitors being down 3-0, the hosts might have liked the idea of having a shortened 20 over game - for which they looked as settled as ever even before the fourth game started and testing their batting in different situations is ideal for them with series already secured.
The five-match ODI series between these two teams was supposed to get them prepared for the upcoming World Cup, which now starts in less than two weeks. However, with four matches done, it wouldn’t be wrong to call it a one-sided series. The way the series has panned out is a big surprise as these two sides seemed evenly matched before the series started.
New Zealand were coming into the home season having won only two of their last 11 ODI matches since the start of 2021. Their last ODI series win came in 2018 and they had not made a single score above 250 in all of last year. However, four matches into the World Cup year, it seems that the White Ferns have found a template which suits them. And for once, a lot seems to be clicking together for them.
Bates back to her best
In three of the last four ODIs, they have scored more than 270, two of which have come chasing, with one being a record run-chase. And in the fourth game, they scored 191 in 20 overs, which seems like a solid effort, even if you consider the fact that Indian bowling wasn’t at its best. What would be more satisfying for Sophie Devine and her backroom staff is the fact that in each of those games, they have found different personnel grabbing their chances.
First up was the veteran, Suzie Bates. She started the series with a 106-run knock which was a testament to her perseverance through the last year or so. Heading into the mega-event, her role becomes even more crucial as the White Ferns struggle to narrow down her opening partner. This brings us to one of the only concerns for New Zealand’s batting.
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Sophie Devine started this series at no. 5. When she walked out to bat in the 37th over, her side was 204 for 3, an ideal situation for her to tee off and take them to a big score. Only that she failed to do so, but that is quite natural given the nature of the role. But, surprisingly enough, she pushed herself to top of the order after that. In ODI cricket, she has been batting at all sorts of positions. When she opened the innings in the second ODI, she was doing it for the first time since October 2020 and for the first time in New Zealand since January 2019.
On the surface level, the idea of her opening the batting works wonderfully, because of her aggressive style of play and her recent success in T20 cricket in that role. But, a couple of 30s and a duck is certainly not satisfactory for a player of her stature. Apart from her batting position, New Zealand have a couple of more options.
New Zealand's finishers come to the party
Maddy Green opened the batting in the first game, scoring 17. It was only the third time she opened the innings for her country in ODI cricket. Then there is Lauren Down, who has opened before, but never had a consistent run as a premier choice or a reliable batter in the role. But, much to the delight of the hosts, both the players have made most of their opportunities batting down the order. Green made 52 in the second game where New Zealand chased 271, while Down smashed an unbeaten 64 in the record run-chase in the next game.
Whether Devine continues as an opener or not, both Green and Down have shown that, if a situation arises, they are ready to step up and play the role of a finisher, something which could be the difference between teams during the mega-event which is to come. But, before the finisher comes out to do the job, the middle order has to stand up. And in this series it has done exactly that.
The White Ferns' remarkable 3-4 punch leaves India in a spin
Amelia Kerr returned to the New Zealand team after a break and has taken up the role of the No. 3, which going by her performances so far, is a position she enjoys to bat at. Her unbeaten 119 in the second ODI was the perfect mixture of the calmness and collectivism which this middle order required to see them through in a tough run chase. In the next game, she scored 67, after the openers were dismissed early. In the fourth match, she was at her aggressive best, putting on 68 with a strike rate in excess of 200.
With the three knocks, Kerr has not only cemented herself as the No. 3, but also given solidity to the middle order, something which it lacked in the past year or so. Then there is Amy Sattherthwaite, who seems to have blended well in the no. 4 role. It hasn’t been her most successful batting position in the past, which still remains at no. 3, where she averages 45 (more than her career average of 39.05). But in the four matches, she has scores of 63, 59, a 16-ball 32 and a duck.
What is even more pleasing to watch, is the way these two batters have played spin. While Kerr has depended on using the depth of the crease, the southpaw has managed to play more elegants shots in front of square. Both have ability to sweep as well, adding to their advantage against spin. And, the rotation of strike isn’t much of a worry either for them. Batting in the middle overs, especially against spin, will be a crucial job at the World Cup and if these two keep their current form up, the hosts are poised to go deep.
New Zealand’s batting looks primed to score heavy totals during the mega-event. The wicket in Queenstown was pretty flat and it won’t be surprising if the pattern continues through the World Cup - as has been the case in New Zealand for the last few years. In conditions like these, the batting has to be ready for scoring big and the middle order has to show stability. For now, everything has clicked for the hosts.