Can the Lions Cope With Blitzkrieg Rugby?

Rugby is a game that is based on the laws of battle. The forwards represent the infantry, the backs the cavalry, and the kicker the artillery. Much like warfare, team styles of rugby fall on a spectrum with attritional warfare on one end and manoeuvre warfare at the other.

In the same way that the Wehrmacht shocked its opponents with revolutionary tactics in the opening stages of World War II, the reason why the All Blacks have dominated the world rugby stage for over a decade is that they’re conducting a blitzkrieg while everyone else is in World War I mode.

In other words, the All Blacks are fighting with manoeuvre warfare while everyone else is in the attritional mindset.

The concept of the blitzkrieg was based around two general principles: the schwerpunkt and the kesselschlacht.

A ‘schwerpunkt’ (“heavy point”) refers to a specific point in the enemy defensive line that was targeted for a sudden, intense rush of artillery, armour and infantry, with the specific intent of breaking the line and driving beyond.

Usually this took the form of an intense artillery barrage from multiple batteries concentrated on a single point in the line, followed immediately by a heavy tank charge with the intent of breaching the line, and then infantrymen into the breach with the intent of holding it and keeping it open.

Usually there was more than one schwerpunkt, the idea being that multiple columns of armour would break the enemy line at various points and then, as they penetrated deep into the enemy interior, link up in what was called a pincer movement, as it cleaved off a chunk of the map in a manner akin to the pincers of an insect.

When two or more columns of armour met in the interior of the enemy, that essentially meant that all of the enemy forces between the initial front lines and the two vast lines established by the armour were surrounded in the centre, making it possible to pin them with artillery fire.

Because this led to those enemy forces being rendered into chaos in much the same manner as water boiling in a kettle, this was known as a ‘kesselschlact’ (“kettle battle”).

The reason why this tactic – called blitzkrieg by the British – was so successful is that is allowed the attacker to break up tens of kilometres of enemy defensive line in one movement. This was a drastic change from the usual World War I tactic of winning a few hundred meters at a time in a slow, bloody grind that was vulnerable to counterattack.

Because so much of the enemy line was broken so quickly, it had a tendency to collapse before it could regroup, as was seen in France and the opening weeks of Barbarossa.

So much for the military lesson.

The two distinct styles of rugby union played in the world today could be roughly referred to as the Atlantic and the Pacific styles.

The Atlantic style is the traditional, attritional style of rugby favoured by the Northern Hemisphere sides and by South Africa and Argentina. It is otherwise known as “tight”, “10 man” or “up the jumper” rugby and refers to a love of mauls, scrums, pick and gos, high bombs, one-out crashballing, pinpoint kicking and generally just mudwrestling – essentially World War I-style tactics in miniature.

The Pacific style, championed by the All Blacks, is also played by Australia, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. Japan used it when they shocked the Springboks at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and Argentina flirt with using it. It is derided as “loose”, “festival” or “basketball” rugby by the Northerners.

Those who play this style love offloads, cut-out passes, goosesteps, wrap-around plays, fends that knock the fullbacks over, sudden and untelegraphed changes of attack direction, chipping and regathering, passing in front of the receiver, and perfectly-timed passes that allow the winger to skin the covering tackle on the outside.

Done poorly, the Pacific style can disintegrate into a shambles reminiscent of a scratch Barbarians game, in which the players are trying to force every pass and the opposition can win simply by waiting for opportunities to counterattack.

Done well, the Pacific style gives us blitzkrieg rugby.

Like the military blitzkrieg, successful use of this tactic is much more than just throwing the ball around and having big players who can run fast. It also requires a particularly high degree of co-ordination.

If there’s one way in which the All Blacks are always more effective than their opposition it is in their ability to support a line break. Almost every time an All Black breaks the line he has options for unloading.

This is a consequence of the fact that All Black players have usually played rugby since they were small children and have an intuitive ability to read the game that has been refined over more years than the other teams’ players.

In the same way that the Soviet Union stopped the Nazi blitzkrieg by successfully using multiple lines of defence, the Lions will have to accept and adapt to the fact that their first lines are going to get broken.

In other words, if the Lions are going to stop the blitzkrieg rugby of the All Blacks they are going to have to scramble like demons.

This will require a high degree of skill as the defenders will have to make correct decisions at extreme pace.

Usually these decisions involve which lines to run so as to shut down space in order to prevent the player making the line break from setting up an outside runner, as it is this aspect of the game where the All Blacks can devastate teams in very short order.

The blueprint for this ought to be the Irish win over the All Blacks in Chicago last year. The Irish defence retained its cohesion in that game despite the rapid manoeuvre attack of the All Blacks. If the Lions cannot at least equal the defensive cohesion of that Irish team, the All Blacks will cut them to shreds.

Furthermore, without a kicker near to the class of Dan Carter the Men in Black do not have a reliable Plan B. It’s blitzkrieg rugby or nothing – so the British and Irish can be expected to have an excellent game plan.

Rugby union is, and always has been, a game of skill.

The All Blacks will play to a gameplan which puts the skills of all 30 players under the highest possible stress at the highest possible tempo, because these circumstances give the decisive edge to the most skilled side, and they believe themselves to have the superior skills.

If the Lions are going to stop this blitzkrieg they are going to have to make intelligent decisions extremely quickly to an intelligent gameplan. The competitiveness of the series will hinge on their ability to do this.

Black Caps vs. Bangladesh, Champions Trophy Pool Match Preview

Mustafizur Rahman, with a strike rate of 22.7 in ODIs, would fancy himself against the Black Caps middle order if he gets a chance against them in tonight’s do-or-die encounter in Cardiff

This Champions Trophy has been one of upsets. The Black Caps got themselves into a position of control before the rain set in against the slightly favoured world champion Australia side, then Pakistan defeated the moderately favoured South Africa side, and last night Sri Lanka defeated the massively favoured India side.

An even worse omen for the Black Caps is the fact that they lost their previous encounter with Bangladesh in the Ireland tri-series a few short weeks ago.

This will give the Bangladeshis confidence before their crucial Group A encounter with the Black Caps in Cardiff tonight. They will, however, have to contend with facing a very different Black Caps side to the one they beat in Dublin.

Most notably, the Black Caps will now have the presence of all of their four genuinely world-class players, with Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson and Trent Boult, all of whom missed the Ireland tri-series for IPL duty, rejoining Ross Taylor in the side.

This explains why the Black Caps are still the favourites to win the encounter on BetFair. They are only paying $1.33 compared to Bangladesh’s $3.90, making them heavy favourites.

Martin Guptill has looked very good in his two starts this tournament, but has been unable to go on and play a punishing innings. With Luke Ronchi likely to continue partnering him at the top, Bangladesh will be forced to take early wickets or risk getting hit out of the game.

With Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor completing the top order, the most likely outcome of the match appears to be the Black Caps top four batting the Bangladeshi bowlers – a class weaker than the English and Australian batteries – out of the game.

If they don’t, Bangladesh will feel confident of rolling the rest of the order. The Black Caps lost 7 for 37 against Australia and 8 for 65 against England, and Bangladesh know that if they can get Williamson in early and then out early, they will be in a very strong position.

The Black Caps might be tempted to fiddle with their middle order a bit, knowing that this has been their soft underbelly for a long time.

Neil Broom’s returns have been poor this tournament – only 11 and 14 – but he has averaged 43.53 since coming back into the Black Caps side last December. His position should be okay for now.

The real question is how to fit both of Jimmy Neesham and Corey Anderson in the team. It may be that one of them comes out for Colin de Grandhomme, who has shown the ability to come to the crease and start hitting straight away.

It may also necessary to drop Mitchell Santner below Adam Milne in the batting order, as Santner has had great struggles with the bat recently.

Another option is bringing Latham in to open and moving Ronchi back down the order.

Bangladesh may find it much more difficult to chase down scores like 271, as they managed to do in Dublin, because they will have to do it against Boult, Tim Southee and Adam Milne.

However, their batting down to 7 is much stronger than it has ever previously been in Bangladesh cricket history.

Tamim Iqbal is their strongest bat on recent form. In 30 matches since the last Cricket World Cup he averages 59.53 with the bat, and has scored over 200 runs in two innings so far this tournament.

Around him there are a number of very talented batsmen, in particular Sabbir Rahman, Soumya Sarkar, Mushfiqur Rahim and the allrounder Shakib al Hasan.

If they can keep Boult, Milne and Southee out with the new ball, as England managed to do, then it will be possible for them to milk a plethora of runs in the middle stages.

A major danger for Bangladesh is that if they fail to bowl New Zealand out, they may lack the hitting power to match them across 50 overs. Despite the talent in the Bangladeshi side it’s hard to see them chasing 300 or more, even in the most favourable circumstances.

All of this could be moot in the very real circumstances of rain, as a washout would see the Black Caps eliminated and Bangladesh with only a mathematical chance of progress.

For the winner, however, an Australian loss in their matchup against the bookies’ favourites England, or a washout in the same encounter, would see them progress to the semi-finals.

Considering the chaos in the other group, there’s every chance that they would then play a relatively soft team like Pakistan or Sri Lanka in the semifinal.

So there’s all to play for tonight.

Black Caps vs. England, Champions Trophy Pool Match Preview

The Black Caps demolished England the last time these two sides met in a major competition, with Tim Southee taking 7/33. The England team of today, however, is an entirely different beast

The washout against Australia a few nights ago gave Black Caps fans a lesson in expectation akin to being given a lesson in orgasm denial from a professional dominatrix. With Australia reduced to 53/3 in the tenth over of their chase, all signs were pointing towards an opening round upset as shocking as the Black Caps’ win over Australia in the 1992 Cricket World Cup.

Instead, the rain came in to deny us a fair finish to the contest. So the Black Caps will be champing at the bit to have a go at England tonight (9:30 p.m. NZT) in Cardiff, in a match that they almost have to win in order to advance to the semifinals.

The English side has been heralded as prospective champions from all corners, and this is reflected in the short odds offered on BetFair for England to win this contest: $1.52, compared to $2.90 for the Black Caps.

Looking at the achievements of the England batting unit it’s not hard to see why.

Joe Root looks unstoppable at the moment, with an ODI batting average of 49.68 and just coming off 133* against Bangladesh. Around him are three batsmen who are ranked just behind Ross Taylor on the ODI charts right now: Alex Hales, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler.

All of these batsmen, including Root, are capable of batting at a very fast clip, and so are opener Jason Roy and allrounder Ben Stokes.

So the Black Caps will go into the match knowing that a failure to take early wickets will likely leave them chasing a gigantic score. They need to at least get Joe Root out early if they want to have a real chance of bowling England out.

But if English batting stocks are strong, the bowling stocks are another question.

Chris Woakes has been ruled out of this match through injury and Ben Stokes may not be able to bowl his full quota of 10 overs on account of a minor knee injury.

On top of this, Jake Ball has been very expensive in recent games and neither David Willey, Mark Wood nor Steven Finn have shown a particular talent for taking wickets. This means that Liam Plunkett – at 16th – is likely to be the highest-ranked English bowler on display.

The weak English bowling is where, if anywhere, the match is most likely to be decided. They will have to get Kane Williamson and Taylor out cheapish, and avoid being hit out of the game by Martin Guptill or Luke Ronchi at the top, to have any realistic chance of winning.

If they can, then they will be into the currently misfiring Black Caps middle order. The Black Caps lost 7 for 37 at the end of their innings against Australia, mostly thanks to their middle order finding Australian fielders with most of their lofted shots.

The New Zealand middle order had already been identified as a point of weakness before this tournament, so the English bowlers should feel confident of restricting the Black Caps to a small total if they can get into it before the death overs.

However, if they can’t, then they will not be able to defend anything less than 350, because otherwise the Black Caps will hit them out of the game.

Adam Milne was extremely impressive against Australia, despite only bowling a few overs. This will make him, alongside Trent Boult and Mitchell Santner, the likely choices for bowlers.

They will be partnered by either Tim Southee or Jeetan Patel, depending on which of the two appear best suited for the conditions, and a combination of Corey Anderson and Jimmy Neesham as the fifth bowler.

All of Milne, Boult and Santner are more impressive than any bowler England is fielding – for reasons of pace, skill and economy respectively – so it is most likely to be here that the Black Caps win the match.

Black Caps vs. Australia, Champions Trophy Pool Match Preview

Trent Boult demolished the Australian lower order the last time these two sides met in an ODI, taking 6-33. The Black Caps will need something similar to concede less than 350 against this strong Australian side

The Black Caps had mixed fortunes in the Champions Trophy warm-up matches, but that will all be forgotten when their first pool match starts, against World Cup final opponents Australia, this Friday at 9:30p.m. (NZT).

Australia is a solid favourite on BetFair to win this encounter in Birmingham. They are only paying $1.53 compared to $2.84 for the Black Caps.

The main reason for this is their superb bowling. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are both ranked in the top 5 of ODI bowlers at the moment, and they will have both Pat Cummins and James Pattinson backing them up.

Because Starc is capable of batting 8, Australia might be tempted to go with all four of them in the same side – which would make for an exceptionally fearsome ODI pace battery, one of the strongest ever. There would be no respite.

The Black Caps may have three of their best ever ODI batsmen in the top 4 – Martin Guptill, captain Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, but question marks remain over Guptill’s opening partner and the middle order.

A number of players were tried in these positions in the warm-up matches and in the preceding tri-series against Ireland and Bangladesh. The difficulty is that there were no performances that will have forced the hand of the selectors.

Guptill will open with either Luke Ronchi or Tom Latham. The desire from the brains trust might be to favour the big-hitting Ronchi, because English surfaces in recent years have tended towards very big scores.

A variety of players have been recently tried in the Black Caps middle order. Neil Broom, Corey Anderson, Jimmy Neesham, Mitchell Santner and Colin de Grandhomme are all possibilities for the middle order and allrounder slots.

The Black Caps bowling unit, however, is easy to select. The tried and true combination of Trent Boult (ranked 6th in the world for ODIs) and Tim Southee will no doubt share the new ball, and it’s likely that Mitchell McClenaghan will be in as third seamer.

McClenaghan’s T20 experience will help to lend him skills that are useful in death bowling, and he has been talked about in that role in particular. This should see him take the spot ahead of Adam Milne, who is improving rapidly but still lacks the knockout punch of the more established seamers.

The three seamers will be complimented by Mitchell Santner, whose relentless accuracy and subtle variations have seen him rise into the top 10 of ODI bowlers for the first time.

The Black Caps bowling strategy will be to take two or three poles early with the moving ball, and then to at least restrict the scoring in the middle overs with Santner and the variations of either McClenaghan or Milne.

This will lessen the potential impact of the Australians’ big middle order hitters like Chris Lynn, Travis Head, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade.

The Australian batting lineup appears to be following the general ODI zeitgeist at the moment by being packed with hitters. Any of David Warner, Aaron Finch, Lynn, Head, Maxwell or Stoinis is capable of striking at well over 100 for as long as they can stay in.

Their strategy will probably be to use Steve Smith at 3 as the fulcrum around which the other batsmen can hit. If Smith can stay in long enough then the others around him can throw the bat and Australia will post a colossal score.

Considering that 300 has been a par score in England recently even for average sides, this match between the two World Cup finalists has the potential to see 700+ runs scored.

The winner of it will have the box seat in qualifying from this group, as they will probably then only have to beat Bangladesh in order to advance to the semifinals.

Did Richie McCaw Destroy International Rugby?

The Sydney Bledisloe Cup match of 2000 was a high water mark in international rugby. In front of 109,000 people, the world champion Australia team and the desperate, wounded All Blacks fought to the death like Ali and Frazier. Many who saw it said at the time it was the most extraordinary rugby match ever played, with an iconic match-winning performance from none other than Jonah Lomu.

The All Blacks prevailed on that night, 39-35, but the Wallabies would win by one point three weeks later to retain the Bledisloe Cup, and at the time it seemed like the advent of professional rugby was about to make for a titanic era of contests for this trophy.

Professional rugby seemed like it was going to bring a lot of razzamatazz to the Southern Hemisphere circuit – Super Rugby was also huge that year. The ACT Brumbies topped the table at the end of the pool stages, and ended up losing the final at home against the Canterbury Crusaders by one point.

The next year, 2001, marked the Super Rugby debut, also for the Crusaders, of one Richie Hugh McCaw. As it turned out, McCaw was not so much a rugby player as a genius that played rugby.

He only played eight minutes of Super Rugby that year, but he did play a full NPC season, and was good enough to win selection to the All Blacks’ end of year tour, where he was handed a debut against Ireland, and promptly won Man of the Match.

The next year, 2002, McCaw became a Crusaders regular. In an odd echo of the future, the Crusaders won every single match that year, taking the Super Rugby title undefeated – something never achieved before or since.

2003 might have been the end of the golden summer for Australian rugby. They lost the Bledisloe Cup, but managed to knock the All Blacks out of the World Cup, going on to take an all-conquering England team to extra time in the final.

Come 2017, and Australia has not won the Bledisloe Cup since. Richie McCaw may have retired two years ago, but in the same way that Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca depressed the price of gold in the Middle East for decades afterwards, McCaw’s decade of almost total dominance still depresses Australian rugby.

This year’s Super Rugby table makes for confusing reading. The current leaders of the Australian conference, the Brumbies, have fewer tournament points than the current wooden spooners of the New Zealand conference, the Blues.

New Zealand rugby is so dominant that the 4th-ranked Kiwi team, the Highlanders, has only lost three games all season. Despite this, they can’t climb any higher than 4th because the Hurricanes have only lost two, the Chiefs one and the Crusaders zero.

Even worse is the effect this dominance has had on the Internet rhetoric. At the turn of the century, trans-Tasman rugby banter was between equals. In recent years, however, it has taken a darker turn: the prison rape metaphor, once only applied to descriptions of All Blacks matches against the hapless Celts, crept into summaries of Bledisloe matches.

At its nadir, the Internet rhetoric was entirely based on the degree of sexual impotence the Australian players and fans would suffer as a consequence of the losses and for how many years afterwards. The jokes were that the children of Australian players would be too ashamed to admit their paternity to their classmates.

So the question is this: was Richie McCaw so good at rugby that he actually destroyed the international game? Did he set standards so high that all other nations just gave up on hoping to ever match them?

Probably not. After all, Australia made it to the World Cup final in 2015, and they did about as well there as any other side could have hoped to have done – namely, a loss by a two-try margin.

Alexander the Great died at age 33, and within months of the same age Richie McCaw retired from international rugby. The struggle for a successor to Alexander saw his empire shatter into four pieces and then to further disintegrate.

Kieran Read now leads the All Blacks, and his side might play the role of the Seleucid Empire, the early favourites to recreate the total world domination that McCaw once achieved.

However, no order can exist indefinitely, and it is in the nature of peaks to erode into valleys. The standards set by McCaw are unlikely to be maintained for the simple reason that the men tasked with doing so will not possess McCaw’s genius.

This column believes that it is in the Australian nature, despite a decade of denial, to recognise the smell of blood at the first opportunity and to take advantage of it. Therefore, it predicts that the current sorry state of Australian rugby will not last for much longer.

And as long as one side can stand up to the All Blacks the others will always believe themselves to have a hope.

An Essay Concerning Who Ought to Take the Crease at the Fall of a Wicket in T20s

When ODI cricket was invented, it took players, coaches and strategists a while to adapt to the fact that they were no longer playing Test cricket. For example, the fact that 220/3 after 50 overs is great in Tests and terrible in ODIs was not immediately appreciated.

The first ever Cricket World Cup match was famously marred by an innings of 36 off 174 balls from Sunil Gavasakar, who went on to state that “I wasn’t overjoyed at the prospect of playing non-cricketing shots and I just got into a mental rut after that.”

Gavaskar’s Test record shows that he was an exceptionally capable batsman, so the initial adjustment to such concepts as “scoreboard pressure” and “required run rate” must have been a big one, and a psychological one.

It was solved when it was realised that strike rate is about as important as average runs scored for an ODI batsman, especially the closer the game gets to the last over.

T20 cricket is still new enough that original plays are still being thought up. Every year there are new innovations, or new variations on old ones. Some concepts have to be abandoned, some concepts have to be tweaked, and some concepts have to be synthesised out of wordless intuition and perception.

This essay suggests one radical concept: that we need to do away with the old concept of batting order, and to replace it with a batting dynamic.

The major advantage of thinking in terms of a batting dynamic is that it would help the Black Caps find a place in the T20 side for Ross Taylor, who is simply too good to be left out.

A batting dynamic means no longer having a batting order in terms of openers, a first drop, a middle order etc. It means (to simplify it) to have one accumulator and one hitter at the crease at all times.

The reasons for this are mathematical. It’s better to have one accumulator than two hitters, because the hitters can lose wickets in clumps very easily and cripple the team. But it’s better to have one hitter than two accumulators, because you only have 20 overs and batting too slowly will lose you the game just as surely as losing a pile of wickets.

It’s best to consider these to be entirely separate skills – which they are, until the real slog of the last few overs.

The Black Caps have made it to No. 1 in the world T20 rankings partially by opening the batting with who are at time of writing both in the top 8 in the world – Kane Williamson at 3 and Martin Guptill at 8.

In doing so, they have a world-class accumulator in Williamson and a world-class hitter in Guptill, so all is good.

The problems arise when the first wicket falls.

Under the old concept of a batting order, this wouldn’t matter much, as it seldom does in Tests and hardly matters in ODIs.

But when the first wicket falls in a Black Caps T20 innings, the team runs the risk of making two mistakes, namely having two accumulators or two hitters at the crease.

The concept of a batting dynamic means that we divide the batsmen into accumulators and hitters, and that we try not to have two of both until the last few overs when everyone hits.

So for the T20 side, one might open with Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill, with Williamson the designated accumulator and Guptill the designated hitter.

If Williamson is dismissed early, we send Ross Taylor in. This way, it becomes less likely that the opposition will run through our lineup, as happened in February this year.

Conversely, if Guptill is dismissed first, the next hitter in line comes in to bat – perhaps Colin Munro, Corey Anderson, Tom Bruce, Colin de Grandhomme or even Tim Southee.

It doesn’t matter who it is, as long as they have a licence to hit, because the emphasis is on avoiding having two accumulators at the crease. This way we can avoid burning through the overs while scoring too few boundaries and using up our 20 with piles of wickets in hand.

So if Kane Williamson carries his bat, then Ross Taylor will not take the crease until all the other hitters are out. This means that Taylor could bat anywhere between 3 and 7 depending on the hitting ability of the other batsmen and when Williamson is dismissed.

But if Williamson is out on the first ball then Taylor comes in to ensure that the strike is always rotated to the hitter at the other end.

The worst case scenario (besides being bowled out) is that all our hitters get dismissed and we’re left with Williamson and Taylor to finish the innings. Obviously this is still an excellent outcome.

The other point is that if we aim to always have one of Williamson or Taylor at the crease until the death (let’s say until the 15th over at least), then the choice of the other batsmen in the team becomes much more straight-forward: they can simply all be hitters, as it’s very unlikely that Williamson and Taylor will both get out early.

Statistically, one would expect this to have the effect of causing the Black Caps to win by smaller margins, but to win more games, as the variance of the scores will be reduced if there are fewer hit-and-miss batsmen at the crease.

– DAN McGLASHAN

A Look at the Black Caps Squad For The Champions Trophy

The Black Caps squad for June’s Champions Trophy has been announced. The full squad is: Kane Williamson (c), Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Neil Broom, Colin de Grandhomme, Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Mitch McClenaghan, Adam Milne, Jimmy Neesham, Jeetan Patel, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee and Ross Taylor.

The Black Caps have a tough group to get out of. They must qualify in the top two of the pool to progress, and their group of four contains world champions Australia, home favourites England, and giant-killers Bangladesh. Finishing last is a realistic possibility.

Matt Henry might be the big omission from the squad. Over his 30-match career Henry has 58 wickets at 25.10, which makes the case for his inclusion about as compelling as the case for Trent Boult before the 2015 CWC. It is certainly a significantly better record than any of McClenaghan, Milne and even Southee.

Despite this, the Black Caps pace battery will be very strong. It looks as though the pace bowling attack will be based around Trent Boult (as could be expected up until the 2023 CWC), with Adam Milne returning to his pre-CWC injury third seamer role and one of McClenaghan or Southee sharing the new ball.

Adam Milne has the potential to be a tremendous bowler, as he has both the pace and accuracy. All he needs to learn is the subtlety that divides the cricket master from the journeyman and New Zealand will have another weapon in the bag.

Mitch McClenaghan has surprised a lot of people and continues to do so. He has been excellent for the Mumbai Indians in this season’s IPL and the Black Caps selection panel appears to believe that this white-ball success will translate well to English conditions.

English conditions will also suit the tricky Tim Southee. So in all cases, Kane Williamson knows he has 30 overs of top-drawer pace bowling available to him.

The Guptill-Williamson-Taylor axis comprises three of New Zealand’s best ODI batsmen ever and, if anything, these three players are better than the ones that took the Black Caps to a CWC final. So most of the top order picks itself.

Tom Latham is enduring a horror season with the bat, but he is still likely to open the batting alongside Guptill. His current average of just under 30 might make his place in the order look questionable, but with six Test centuries by age 25, his experience and skill against the new ball will be useful in English conditions with high levels of lateral movement.

The real selection questions are around the middle order.

The Black Caps are yet to find a dependable replacement for Grant Elliott, although the squad does include a number of possibilities. Neil Broom might be considered the front-runner for the position but Jimmy Neesham has recently been surprisingly good in the last batsman’s position.

Any number of players could take the allrounder’s position at 6. Probably the Black Caps will go with Corey Anderson, whose awful run with injuries seems to be over. Anderson, like McClenaghan, has been impressive in the IPL, and Williamson ought to be able to depend on him for four overs at least.

The other allrounder’s position at 7 is another open question. If Tom Latham opens the batting, there may be little advantage in choosing Luke Ronchi at 7, as Ronchi has been very poor with the bat for a long time and does not offer more than Latham with the gloves.

Mitchell Santner might have fallen out of favour slightly in the regard of the current set-up, and this could mean that Colin de Grandhomme takes his place as the bowling all-rounder, if the brains trust decides to go with Luke Ronchi at 7.

Given the strength of the top order with the bat, the smart thing to do might to pack the middle order with hard-hitting allrounders.

Likely team for the first match versus Australia on the 2nd of June, starting at 9.30p.m. New Zealand Time:

1. Martin Guptill
2. Tom Latham (wk)
3. Kane Williamson (c)
4. Ross Taylor
5. Neil Broom
6. Corey Anderson (5/6)
7. Colin de Grandhomme (5/6)
8. Mitchell Santner (4)
9. Mitchell McClenaghan (2)
10. Adam Milne (3)
11. Trent Boult (1)

South Africa in New Zealand 2017 Test Series Preview

Kagiso Rabada, at only 21 years of age, is considered one of the most likely to play an influential role in this series

The limited overs leg of the 2017 South Africa tour of New Zealand was a close-fought contest that ended in South Africa’s favour. As the limited overs game is New Zealand’s strong suit, that means that the South Africans will take the ascendancy into the three-match Test series beginning tomorrow in Dunedin.

South Africa are ranked No. 3 in the world and the Black Caps No. 5. This might not be a large gap but the market is much more confident of a South Africa win. The Proteas are paying only $2.24 on BetFair to win the First Test, compared to the Black Caps paying $3.70 and the Draw $3.60.

The Black Caps will not fondly recall the disappointment from when these two sides last met in Tests – the two match series in South Africa last August. The First Test was ruined by rain and the Second saw the Black Caps at one stage 4 down for 7 runs before a respectable, if futile, rearguard from Henry Nicholls.

Since then, the Black Caps have demolished both Pakistan and Bangladesh at home. Although South Africa will be tougher than either of those two Asian sides in New Zealand conditions, the Black Caps’ home advantage should make this series more interesting than the previous encounter in South Africa last August.

If one makes the assumption that Tom Latham’s poor recent ODI form will not carry over into the Test arena, then the Black Caps top order looks as solid as it ever has been.

They will have the highest ranked Test batsman on display for either side, in Kane Williamson at 4th. His returns in the past year have been good but mediocre by his high standards and he would like to play a defining innings against the South Africans.

Ross Taylor at 15th and Tom Latham at 26th, with Jeet Raval looking solid in his limited opportunities so far, make it a respectable, if far from intimidating, Black Caps top order.

They will not be favoured to dominate the South African bowling attack, though, even in the absence of Dale Steyn. The 21-year old Kagiso Rabada had barely had time to find his feet but has already risen to 5th in the Test bowling rankings, with two five-wicket hauls in only 14 Tests.

He will likely open the bowling with Vernon Philander, who averages 21.40 with the ball over 40 Tests. In terms of bowling average, at least, it will be easily the most formidable opening bowling pair the Black Caps have faced since their last series against South Africa.

They also have Morne Morkel, whose height and bounce pose a threat that New Zealand batsmen rarely face, and an almost total unknown in left-arm orthodox Keshav Maharaj.

The Black Caps have no real bowling spearheads but are capable of sustained pressure. Neil Wagner, Trent Boult and Tim Southee occupy positions 11 to 13 on the Test bowling rankings table.

These three bowlers have proven themselves capable of hunting as a pack, and the variety of Wagner’s left-arm bouncer barrage, Boult’s left-arm swing and Southee’s right-arm seam should make it difficult for the South African batsmen to settle. It will also be interesting to see if Mitchell Santner can usefully transfer his tight ODI bowling into the Test arena.

The South African Test batting unit might not be as terrifying as it is in ODIs but it still poses a threat. They do not have AB de Villiers for this series but both of Hashim Amla and Quentin de Kock are ranked in the top 10 and either could play a matchwinning knock.

The Black Caps bowlers will back their bowling plans against the other batsmen like Faf du Plessis, Stephen Cook, Dean Elgar, JP Duminy and Temba Bavuma. None of the batsmen in South Africa’s second tier pose a particular threat but all are very good players. Even if the Black Caps pick up a string of wickets somewhere they will always have to work hard to get the rest.

A heavyweight South Africa side without their best two players and playing in foreign conditions over three Tests against a middle-of-the-pack Black Caps side hungry to make the top tier promises to be highly competitive cricket. This column is guessing the most likely outcome to be a two-one win to South Africa or a one-all draw.

Should There be an ODI Tri-Nations?

ODI tournament cricket involving Australia, South Africa and New Zealand has been at the highest standard for all of this century – time to make it a permanent fixture?

There seems to be a paradigm shift going on in the world of international cricket at the moment. The rise of T20 cricket and international T20 leagues has revolutionised viewing patterns and brought tens of millions of new fans to the game.

This essay suggests a change that, although it should be welcome, is a bit more humble: making a ODI tri-nations involving Australia, South Africa and New Zealand into a regular fixture.

It hasn’t been feasible to suggest such a thing previously because the Black Caps have not previously been up to the extremely high standards set by South Africa and Australia (apart from South Africa’s generally poor showing in Cricket World Cups).

But now it seems like the Black Caps can hold their own against both of those other sides in ODIs, and will be able to for the forseeable future, making a tri-nations a legitimate contest.

There are many strong parallels between this idea and the already proven successful concept of doing exactly the same thing in rugby.

For one, there are very close cultural links between the three countries. All three are children of the British Empire, all play cricket, rugby, hockey, all speak English etc. For decades there has been considerable immigration between the three countries.

That was the logic that led to the advent of the Tri Nations rugby tournament. This proved to be a roaring success, as there was a consistent demand to see a regular, high-quality, competitive tournament.

The Chappell-Hadlee ODI series cup played between Australia and New Zealand has also been a success, with the name of the tournament becoming a byword for close and exciting games. This would naturally fall under the ambit of this tri-nations in the same way the Bledisloe Cup fell under the ambit of the rugby Tri Nations.

The current South Africa-Black Caps ODI series has become a seesaw grudge match because of the excellence of both sides and because of feelings of unfinished business around South Africa’s loss in the CWC semifinal at Eden Park in 2015.

And cricket fans around the world know that Australia versus South Africa is the matchup most likely to pose the greatest test of skill now and in the near future at least.

So all three ingredients in this mix are high-grade.

There is already a precedent for this kind of thing – the Australians regularly play ODI tri-series with two visiting teams (or even Australia A), and there has even been one iteration when the visiting teams were South Africa and New Zealand – and it was by all accounts an excellent series (but not for Steve Waugh, who was replaced by Ricky Ponting as ODI captain in the wake of Australia’s defeat).

If Australia were to host it permanently or semi-permanently on the grounds that they would get by far the best crowds, they could arrange to play either New Zealand or South Africa in a Test series either before or after the tri-nations, smoothing the logistic arrangements.

With international cricket undergoing many changes at the moment, it’s possible that a regular fixture like this might gain in popularity as it develops a history and established rivalry.

South Africa in New Zealand 2017 Limited Overs Series Preview

The theme of revenge for South Africa’s 2015 Cricket World Cup semifinal loss to the Black Caps has been well established. The Proteas came to Auckland with every reason to think they had what it took to seize a place in the World Cup final, but were denied at the last moment.

The Limited Overs leg of this year’s tour begins tomorrow and involves six matches. For South Africa there might be something of the 2015 World Cup about it, as the final match is, once again, at Eden Park.

The leg begins with a T20, also at Eden Park. Much of the interest in the T20 revolves about the late call-up of prodigious Auckland talent Glenn Phillips, who is replacing the injured Martin Guptill.

The 20-year old Phillips is already being talked about as a talent on the order of Kane Williamson and Tom Latham. In last year’s Super Smash he scored 369 runs at an average of 46 and a strike rate of 143, including one century scored at a strike rate of 200.

That is the sort of hitting the Black Caps will need at the top if they are to find an adequate replacement for Guptill. In limited overs matches the Black Caps know that if Guptill goes big, they win, because his striking ability is unmatched.

New Zealand sit comfortably on top of the current world T20I rankings, with South Africa at fourth. It’s almost exactly the other way around in the ODIs, with South Africa ranked at the top and the Black Caps third.

Despite that, the Black Caps are currently paying $2.34 on BetFair to win the T20, so there appears to be some value there.

The South African batting features four of the top ranked seven batsmen in the world at the moment, in AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla and Quentin de Kock. With any four of those players capable of a matchwinning innings, that makes the Proteas top order arguably the strongest ODI top order that has ever come to these shores.

The Black Caps, for their part, have a diverse and highly skilled array of artillery to break through this. But barring Trent Boult, who is currently ranked the No. 2 ODI bowler, none of them can rightly be said to be at the same skill level as the South African batting lineup.

Although there is much to choose from out of Matt Henry, Tim Southee, Lockie Ferguson, Mitchell McClenaghan and Adam Milne (the latter two returning from injury), none of those names pose the known and established threat that Boult does.

Probably the Black Caps will pick Trent Boult, one of the two speedsters (likely to be Ferguson who is in the squad ahead of Milne) and the other spot will be decided by who is best for the conditions out of Henry and Southee.

Ish Sodhi will also be back in case the Black Caps decide to try and strangle the South Africans with the spin of Sodhi, Mitchell Santner and perhaps even Williamson. If the seamers end up getting dominated by the superb Proteas batsmen, expect a wholesale shift to Plan B: strangle by spin.

The South African bowling unit would generally back itself to defend the large totals their batsmen would expect to put up. They have the No. 1 ranked ODI bowler in Imran Tahir, and the ever-more impressive Kagiso Rabada, who is ranked equal with Matt Henry at 7.

Rabada ought to find New Zealand pitches to his liking, with his Courtney Walsh-style action a test of any batsman’s technique. Chris Morris might be hard to get away but Wayne Parnell, JP Duminy and Andile Phehlukwayo will not be names the Black Caps batsmen are afraid of.

Dean Brownlie scored an excellent 63 in the Black Caps’ Hadlee-Chappell winning effort in their last ODI against Australia, and he has been selected to open in place of Guptill for the first two ODIs (Guptill is expected to be fit for the third).

The rest of the Black Caps top order looks very strong, with Latham, Williamson and Ross Taylor making up the remainder. With Luke Ronchi back in the ODI squad there is plenty of middle order hitting power as well.

Expect a high-scoring series in stark contrast to the recent Hadlee-Chappell, as both South Africa and the Black Caps have considerably stronger batting lineups than they do bowling attacks. It is, however, likely to be close, with a 3-2 win to the Proteas probably the slight favourite over a 3-2 to the Black Caps.