BENGALURU: Three defeats do not a bad team make. This was the point skipper Tom Latham made after New Zealand‘s crushing 190-run loss to South Africa at the start of the week. While the Black Caps are not a “bad” side by any stretch of the imagination, they do find themselves in a curious position.
Pre-tournament favourites and until recently, table toppers, New Zealand find themselves fighting for survival.Four consecutive wins – even against England, Netherlands, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who bring up the bottom half of the table – were followed by three losses on the trot to India, Australia and South Africa.
If that wasn’t an insult to their prowess, they have injuries to contend with too. Kane Williamson, Mark Chapman, Lockie Ferguson, James Neesham and Matt Henry are all on the walking-wounded list, which leaves Latham with the barest of resources.
On Friday, the eve of New Zealand’s crunch match against Pakistan, Williamson went through an extended nets session, tackling pace before taking on the spinners. It was heartening to see, although a sudden downpour curtailed the session.
There is more rain forecast for match day, which is bad news for both teams. Mathematically, New Zealand are better placed than Pakistan. They will need a win to stay afloat, while Pakistan will need a bigger win sprinkled with luck to make it through to the top-four. The Babar Azam-led side had one leg out the exit door but were thrown a lifeline by South Africa’s massive win over the Kiwis.
It’s the penultimate match for both teams so it’s now or never. If New Zealand’s biggest demon has been injuries, Pakistan have that and even bigger ones to contend with. There is the added problem of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) throwing Azam under the bus, the resignation of selection committee chief Inzamam-ul-Haq right in the middle of an important tournament, news leaks and cracks in the team.
The Kiwis will be bolstered by the return of pacer Lockie Ferguson and the inclusion of Kyle Jamieson, who has been drafted in as an injury replacement for Henry. After the horror show against South Africa, the Kiwi batters will have to pick themselves up and the focus will be on Rachin Ravindra, Daryl Mitchell, Devon Conway and Glenn Philips. The possible return of Williamson will only add meat to the line-up.
In their two recent losses to South Africa and Australia, the commonality is leaking runs in the excess of 350, the bowling led by Trent Boult will look to hit the right notes and restrict the run rate.
Pakistan, bolstered by the win against Bangladesh, the return of Fakhar Zaman and the form of their lynchpin pacer Shaheen Afridi, will not want to take any backward step.
While weather could be a huge factor, a day match comes with its share of uncertainties. The M Chinnaswamy stadium hasn’t hosted a daytime ODI in over three decades, so there are fewer reference points for the teams.
Also, a 10.30 am start means, for the better part of the match, if there is no rain, the pitch is bound to bake in the sun and could well deteriorate in the latter half of the match. While the venue is known for big runs, it’s also seen some low-scores.