POOL A | Friday 13 March | Hamilton | 03:00
Hosts and World Cup buzz team New Zealand have an opportunity for a clean sweep of Pool A as they face a jubilant Bangladeshi outfit in Hamilton. Five matches played and five matches won for Brendon McCullum’s band of Kiwi crusaders, an unprecedented haul for a side that has never been among the top performers in the game. They’ve beaten a dangerous Sri Lankan side and a broken English one, but most importantly, they’ve beaten chief rivals Australia on their way to the top of the group. Bangladesh have also already qualified for the knockout stages, a first in their relatively short cricketing history. They’ll likely prove a tricky opponent here and the Black Caps will do well not to treat this match as a foregone conclusion.
To Win Match
New Zealand 1/8
The Black Caps will use this match as further preparation for the quarter-final and perhaps the biggest match of their cricketing careers to date. That is not to the say that New Zealand have not pushed for top honours before; they made the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup by building pressure until South Africa cracked, but then lost out to Sri Lanka in expected fashion. It looms as the most important match of their careers because they have never been fancied as highly and now have home ground advantage to boot, at least until the final. Unlike many captains in this and previous tournaments, Brendon McCullum has not gone into his shell in the face of enormous pressure. If anything, he is more aggressive now than at any other time in his career and seems to be relishing the challenge of leading his country through a home World Cup. While many sides continue to look to first and foremost minimise damage in the field, McCullum attacks. Slowing the scoring rate is not as important as taking wickets and New Zealand have bowled out every team they’ve faced so far before the fifty over mark. Unsurprisingly, none have scored many runs in the process.
The attacking, unorthodox and downright risky fields that McCullum sets may unsettle the opposition, but more importantly they fill his bowlers with confidence. Two slips and two gullys tells the likes of Southee, Boult and Milne that the captain believes in their ability to bowl to the field and to take wickets. Southee and Boult have been ruthless in this World Cup, while the latter has clocked speeds of 150kmh. Adam Milne is clearly not bowling within himself. He’s bowling with the aggression imbued by his captain. Martin Guptill and a handful of the middle-order found their touch in New Zealand’s last outing, while veteran Daniel Vettori continues to prove vital. New Zealand will most likely keep their winning combination heading into this clash, with both momentum and confidence in their favour.
Mahmudullah became the first Bangladeshi batsman to score a century at a World Cup as his side triumphed over England for the second tournament in succession. England are going home and Bangladesh are going to the knockout stages. Mahmudullah’s hundred was a touching one, dedicated to his family and mother whom he misses dearly. Bangladesh’s breakthrough in this tournament cannot be taken lightly. It is a massive step forward for a side that has improved steadily over the years, unearthing talented cricketers with the desire to exceed expectations. They deserve nothing less.
Mushfiqur Rahim partnered Mahmudullah in perhaps Bangladesh’s most important World Cup partnership. Rahim was unlucky not to grab a century for himself and although the total of 275 would not be an easy one to defend, it meant that Bangladesh had enough runs on the board to prompt England to panic and implode. Shakib Al Hasan showed his importance to Bangladesh’s makeup by predictably slowing the English run-rate to a crawl during the middle overs, his suffocating left-arm spin an asset perfectly complemented by his aggressive approach at the crease. Rubel Hossain was the pick of the performers with the ball and deserved an accolade for his contribution. Two wickets at the beginning of the innings began England’s apprehension in the chase, while Hossain’s final two wickets at the back end took his side through to the quarter-finals.
Seddon Park in Hamilton has hosted two clashes already in the tournament. South Africa easily passed 300 against Zimbabwe and India chased 260 for the loss of two wickets against Ireland with a massive 13.1 overs to spare. Clearly, there are runs to be had at this ground. Interestingly, the pitch played a bit sticky for both teams batting first and the opening overs will be crucial for penetration. Once the shine is off the new balls, runs can most certainly be plundered. The forecast for Friday is sunny.
VERDICT: New Zealand 1/8
The Black Caps appear to be in the correct headspace at the moment. They are playing an aggressive brand of cricket, but one that is not made to be complex by overthinking. Sure, plans are in place, but essentially they are following some of the most basic rules in cricket. Bowl to take wickets and if the ball is there to be hit, hit it. They’re just making it all look so simple.