New Zealand vs West Indies | Saturday 21 March | Wellington | 03:00
The Black Caps will be pleased as punch to be facing an uncertain West Indian side on a ground at which they have experienced much success. While New Zealand have truly come alive at this edition of cricket’s greatest limited overs showpiece, the business end of the competition will likely drum up a few nerves in the camp. How New Zealand deal with the unprecedented weight of expectation from the national public now becomes the deciding factor for this team. As for the West Indies, they did only what was required of them and no more to make the knockouts. They’ll relish their status as underdogs and look to play with their trademark carefree spirit.
To Win Match
New Zealand 1/3
West Indies 24/10
Brendon McCullum’s much lauded overly aggressive tactics almost came back to haunt the captain against Bangladesh. The subcontinental minnows were the only side in the group stages that New Zealand failed to bowl out and they cashed in late in the innings as McCullum became short of bowlers for the death overs. His enthusiasm to keep taking wickets meant that his strike bowlers were turned to earlier than usual in frustration, a tactic that will be risky if repeated against better opposition. A century from Martin Guptill broke the back of the chase for the Black Caps as they finished undefeated atop Pool A. The new ball pairing of Tim Southee and Trent Boult have been nothing short of spectacular and will again hold the key to success here. Early wickets are paramount on these smaller grounds and Southee in particular has troubled opposition in Wellington. Kane Williamson will be looking for a big score in what has so far been a lukewarm tournament for the talented youngster. Southee, Boult, Williamson and Corey Anderson all played in the same U19 World Cup squad and are now being referred to as the “Class of 2008” in what is certainly the most powerful Kiwi line-up in quite some time. Let's not forget that Anderson recorded the then fastest ODI century from 36 balls against the West Indies in New Zealand's Queenstown at the beginning of 2014.
Darren Sammy used a boxing analogy to describe the situation that the West Indies find themselves in as the tournament reaches the winner-takes-all stage. The West Indies are Buster Douglas and New Zealand are Mike Tyson. A severe underdog, Douglas knocked Tyson out but I feel that by making the comparison, Sammy is selling his side short. In recent history the West Indies have not been overwhelmed by New Zealand to the same extent as they have against the likes of India and South Africa. But he would be correct in the assumption that New Zealand are the strong favourites and insists that the pressure is squarely on the hosts. The West Indies beat New Zealand in the semi-final of the World T20 in 2012 after a tie forced a Super Over. While the format is obviously completely different, the pressures associated remain the same. Southee lost his nerve and could not defend sixteen in the Super Over. Despite missing out against the UAE and being subject to back injections, Chris Gayle is very likely to take to the field on Saturday. His wicket, as always, will be the most important. If the West Indies can navigate the first ten of fifteen overs with minimal damage, they can look to capitalise on New Zealand’s suspect bowling at the death.
New Zealand have fond memories of playing in Wellington, with fifteen ODI wins at the ground and only seven defeats. It is also the same place that New Zealand blew away England in the group stages. The Black Caps will look to exploit the unusual bounce associated with Wellington’s drop-in pitch and their experience in the conditions is a huge added advantage. No rain is predicted for Saturday but there could be some cloud cover to aid the seamers.
VERDICT: New Zealand 1/3
There remains a nagging feeling that once New Zealand come up against a better organised side they will be exposed. Australia were indeed that sort of opposition but played themselves out of the fixture before triggering a massively nervous New Zealand collapse. The Black Caps got over the line and they will again on Saturday, but I have significant doubts about them winning this tournament.