The Trans-Tasman tri-series is at the halfway point of its group stage and already one finalist is known. Whether it’s New Zealand or England who join Australia at Eden Park on February 21 will come down to which side can overcome the batting problems that have destabilised their T20 sides.
It needn’t be panic stations for either team – although Simon Doull has sparked a debate by suggesting Kane Williamson should be moved aside from the New Zealand line-up and Mike Hesson replaced as coach – but for the recently deposed No. 1 side (New Zealand) and the finalists of the previous World T20 (England) it is a worthwhile moment to take stock in a rare consolidated period of T20 action at international level, outside of the global event, the next edition of which is still two years way.
Being at home means New Zealand have more freedom to make changes and have drafted in two new faces, the former Hong Kong batsman Mark Chapmanand wicketkeeper Tim Seifert, in an attempt to inject some life into their middle order. There are concerns that all the power resides in the top two of Martin Guptill and Colin Munro, then Colin de Grandhomme lower down the order. Both Chapman and Seifert could debut in Wellington on Tuesday.
England are working within the squad they have, and that may not include Eoin Morgan for the next match with his fitness status to be confirmed following the groin injury that ruled him out in Melbourne. Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali are other first-choice names not involved in this series while, in the bowling department, Liam Plunkett’s hamstring injury is taking time to clear up.
But it isn’t the bowling that has lost England their first two matches of the tournament: totals of 155 for 9 and 137 for 7 have been plainly insufficient. Such is the relative scarcity of T20I matches it is dangerous to draw too many trends, but since the World T20 there has been a pattern of England’s batting underwhelming (as was the case in the final against West Indies) and there have been some notable collapses.
Against West Indies last September they capitulated at Chester-le-Street when the slow bowlers came on; against India in Bangalore they folded from 119 for 2 to 127 all out; against Pakistan at Old Trafford in 2016 they could only muster 135 for 7 despite being 56 without loss in the seventh over.
There have been fluffed lines chasing as well. England were unable to close out against India in Nagpur and against South Africa in Taunton. It is fair to say there has been experimentation with the line-up at times, as continues in this series, but there are also a lot of familiar names involved over the period.
For the first 10 overs of the tri-series campaign in Hobart things were going smoothly as Dawid Malan – one of the players successfully introduced in the last few matches – produced a breezy half-century, but once again spin bowlers caused no end of problems. England are about to face a team with two in the top three of the world rankings – Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner – so even though the New Zealand boundaries will be shorter they are likely to play a key role.
In Melbourne the innings just never found any legs – much like New Zealand’s limp effort in Sydney – with three wickets falling inside the Powerplay. Jos Buttler was very critical of himself for his stodgy innings, but that can be chalked down to a difficult night for a player whose credentials need no padding. Overall, however, in coming up to the last two years England’s overall batting returns in the format do not stack up particularly well.
They still only have one century in T20Is – Alex Hales’ against Sri Lanka at the 2014 World T20 – while Munro has made three of New Zealand’s six in little more than a year. The first of Munro’s three came batting at No. 3, which has been suggested as a potential swap to allow Williamson to open, which is viewed as his ideal spot.
The Guptill-Williamson pairing has had huge success over an 18-innings span, averaging 51.17 with a run-rate of 8.74, although the Guptill-Munro axis has a run-rate of over nine. Their pairing has been somewhat feast or famine – two centuries stands and not much else – while with Williamson opening there was notable consistency. How New Zealand get the best out of Williamson in the format could yet be a question Australia are faced about Steven Smith given the impact of their heavy-hitters so far in this tournament.
New Zealand’s season was going swimmingly until the second T20I against Pakistan but three defeats since then have brought questions. England are collectively referred to as an outstanding “white-ball” team but their T20 results are not backing that up the way they are for the 50-overs outfit. It provides much intrigue for the week ahead. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)