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Focus On New Zealand's Bowlers As Knock-Outs Loom

18/03/2015 1:35 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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New Zealand’s Trent Boult, second right, is congratulated by his teammates after taking the wicket of Australia's Mitchell Marsh during their Cricket World Cup match in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015. (AP Photo Ross Setford)

This article is from Cricbuzz.

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By Jamie Alter

Sir Richard Hadlee thinks Tim Southee and Trent Boult are New Zealand's best ever new-ball pair. Stephen Fleming believes the combinations and variety in the team's bowling makes it the best in the tournament. Other former New Zealand internationals think it is 35-year-old Daniel Vettori's non-turning left-arm spin that has proved hugely influential. One wise old man has backed Corey Anderson to keep surprising.

Two things seem to be common when you speak to cricketing minds in New Zealand - one, that Brendon McCullum's captaincy is having a positive effect, and two, that New Zealand's bowling is very, very exciting.

So far in the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, it is hard to argue against either claim. That New Zealand have qualified for the knock-outs owes immensely to the role that their bowlers have played. In the first game of the World Cup they bowled out Sri Lanka for 233 in 46.1 overs; Scotland were rolled over for 142 in 36.2 overs; England for 123 in 33.2; Australia for 151 in 32.2; and Afghanistan for 186 in 47.4. They struggled against Bangladesh in the last league match, conceding 288 for 7, but Martin Guptill's brisk century pushed that into the background somewhat.

trent boult

An attack that was groomed over 18 months, with Vettori eased back into it in late 2014, has done well for the most part. Boult, 25, is the joint second-highest wicket-taker with 15 at an average of 15.60, economy of 4.17 and strike-rate of 22.4. Southee has 13, average 20.76, economy 4.82, strike rate 25.8; Vettori also has 13, average 13.69, economy 3.21, strike-rate 25.5. While Adam Milne has not had the tournament the team would have liked, and Mitchell McClenaghan only getting one game, the bowling has found an able supporting act in Anderson whose ten wickets have come at a strike-rate of 16.3.

The most crippling example of what New Zealand's bowling attack can do was visible right here in Wellington on February 20. England chose to bat at Westpac Stadium and were on the mend from a poor start to be 104 for 3 when McCullum called back Southee. What transpired was a collapse to 123 all out, with McCullum setting four slips, a gully and short cover and midwicket. Southee's swing and accuracy did the rest.

"Southee, Boult and Milne make a good attack, then you've got good old Dan in the mix. Tough to look past that attack."

Against Australia at Eden Park on February 28, at one stage McCullum had four slips and a point as well. Boult was the star that day, taking 5 for 27 to help bowl out Australia for 151. Vettori was crucial too, bowling his ten overs for 2 for 41. It was almost as good an outing as he'd had in the tournament opener against Sri Lanka in Christchurch, when he snared 2 for 34 - his best outing in six ODIs - to leave Anderson to term them "massive wickets".

The tearaway Milne has not been potent (four wickets in five matches) and his replacement in the last game, the left-arm quick McClenaghan, went wicketless for 68 runs in eight overs against Bangladesh, but former New Zealand players are backing this attack to keep rolling.

Former seam bowler Gavin Larsen, who was part of New Zealand's 1992 World Cup campaign, believes the team's bowling is the strongest aspect. "Really quality pace bowlers, capable of knocking teams over, like we saw against Australia at Eden Park," he told Cricbuzz. "That's the key for me. Being able to consistently bowl quick, ask questions of batsmen. Southee, Boult and Milne make a good attack, then you've got good old Dan in the mix. Tough to look past that attack."

John Parker, a former Test and ODI international who has observed closely the changes in New Zealand cricket, concurs. "Yes, that is a very good bowling attack, probably the best we've had entering any major cricketing competition. You have to say it is their strongest suite. There's quality pace and spin in the form of Vettori, who is having a very good tournament. That said, the quarter-finals are where the tournament really starts, so they will all have to become better from here on."

According to former Test batsman John Morrison, who in the past also served as New Zealand Cricket's representative on the ICC's refereeing panel, having Vettori at the top of his game at 35 gives New Zealand the edge. "Southee and Boult have been excellent, overall, and Vettori's just been himself, hasn't he? No nonsense, just smart spin bowling," he says. "Quality pace bowling, real pace bowling, will win teams the World Cup. Australia have Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc, really good one-day bowlers at the moment, and a couple of young guys. They don't have a good spinner, so New Zealand in that regards rank higher than them."

Historian Don Neely, a former Wellington captain and New Zealand chairman of selectors, makes an interesting observation. "Who's our most successful bowler in the tournament when you look at strike-rates? If the World Cup stopped today, it's Corey Anderson. He's got about a wicket every 12 balls [sic 13.10] he's bowled," says Neely, who was chairman of selectors during the 1992 World Cup. "He's bowled a couple of overs here and there and ended up with one or two wickets each time. Twelve balls to get a wicket, and Anderson's got ten. And they're cheap. Invariably, it's when a batsman chases a bad ball, having a go at a head-high delivery and getting a top edge or mistiming it, but it's remarkable. And yet, he's not the bowler you'd say is going to win us the World Cup. If Anderson's luck keeps running, and he gets three more games, and he keeps taking two for nothing, that's useful."

On Saturday at Westpac Stadium, New Zealand play West Indies in the fourth quarter-final. At the ground on which Southee helped annihilate England. The fans will throng in the thousands. This is the day everyone's been waiting for. Getting through the league stage was a given as far as New Zealand cricket fans were concerned. 'Bring on the quarters,' was the tone.

At a media interaction last week outside of Hamilton, the former captain Fleming was asked what he felt was New Zealands biggest obstacle at the World Cup. His immediate reply came with a laugh: "Quarter-finals, semi-finals, finals".

"The worrying fact is that when you get to quarter-finals, any one player in the opposition can have a great day. "

Then he got serious. "I think we can be very proud of what they've done in the league stage. Like India, they are unbeaten and playing a great brand of cricket. We now look forward to the quarter-finals and say 'can they maintain this form?' The worrying fact is that when you get to quarter-finals, any one player in the opposition can have a great day. We see [Glenn] Maxwell, [AB] de Villiers and other great players, [Chris] Gayle it doesn't matter who you play against - in the knock-outs each team is going to have someone who can do that. That's the only worrying aspect from an outsider's perspective.

"Stay positive. There's a belief within the side, that it doesn't matter who they come up against, and so far they've come up against the best and done well. I think thats probably going to reflect the nature of the top four teams. The other teams that get through have a bit of 'no fear'. If its West Indies, Pakistan or Bangladesh or Ireland, there's no fear. That can also be dangerous. Its a lot of mind games that go on at the quarter-final stage, so it will be fascinating."

The quarters are almost here, and it will be interesting to see what game McCullum's bowlers bring on the big day.

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