World T20: Clash of the underdogs

New Zealand go in as the favourites but a Root master-class or Buttler blitz may just derail their campaign
Akshay Sharma Delhi

The absence of Brendon McCullum, both as a destructive batsman and an inspirational leader, was expected to be a big setback for New Zealand, but in the World T20 so far, they have played with the same sort of confidence and imagination that characterized their memorable World Cup campaign last year. In the first semi-final of the event, to be played at the Feroz Shah Kotla, they will be taking on a buoyant England team that finally seems to have come to terms with batting in limited overs cricket.

The surprise package in the tournament so far has been the quality of New Zealand’s spin bowling. The trio of Mitchell Santner, Nathan McCullum and Ish Sodhi wasn’t expected by anyone to cause trouble but they have utilised the helpful conditions to the maximum and were even able to floor the mighty Indian batting line up in their first game. Santner and McCullum have used the slowness of the wickets to great effect while Sodhi has generated generous turn from the wickets to cause problems. The batting of New Zealand doesn’t lack firepower with hard-hitters like Guptill, Anderson and Munro and more crafty ones like Williamson. Apart from their batting, Anderson and Elliot have also used their medium paced cutters to good effect in the tournament, however against a more accomplished batting line up, they may not be that useful. Milne is the sole express fast bowler in the line up but his pace seems to hurt him as the ball comes on at a comfortable pace for the batsman. This team is competent but they are yet to prove themselves when it comes to chasing. The semi-final could be the best stage for them to set that record straight as well.

On the other hand, England have a batting line up which contains, unusually for an English team, plenty of firepower. Roy and Hales at the top are well complimented by Root in the middle order and batsmen like Morgan and Buttler along with Stokes down the order are extremely capable of launching a fierce attack on the opposition. But England have a massive problem with their bowling attack. They don’t have any street-smart bowlers who can bamboozle the batsman on these kinds of pitches. Their spinners are orthodox and among the pace bowlers, only Chris Jordan with his ability to bowl yorkers is likely to pose a serious challenge. Therefore, England rely heavily on their batting line up, any meaningful contribution from the bowlers would be a bonus.

The pitch at Kotla is a new turf and has been used only once in the tournament. The presence of grass would certainly put the kiwis in the dilemma of testing their reserve pace attack of Trent Boult and Tim Southee. New Zealand would be happy to bat first as they haven’t yet chased a big score in the tournament and their spinners would be capable of defending a good target. England may just prefer to chase as they have already successfully chased down a massive score against South Africa once in the tournament. New Zealand go in as the favourites but a Root master-class or Buttler blitz may just derail their campaign.