ICC World Cup 2023 – New Zealand stick to their guns as third defeat loosens grip on semi-finals

In the larger context, New Zealand have had a typical campaign in the World Cup so far. They have made the best use of their resources despite injuries, they have been solid in the matches that they were expected to win, and have won one out of the four that could have gone either way. In two of the three defeats, they ran pretty strong teams close.

However, in two of those defeats, New Zealand have omitted to do things you expect them to do every single time. There were free hits and dropped chances against Australia in Dharamsala, and then some more against South Africa in Pune. One of the better readers of conditions, and thus good at deciding what to do at the toss, New Zealand received some criticism for not making South Africa do what they don’t like to do: chase.

Battered and bruised with five of their 15 players injured by the end of the night, New Zealand are sticking to their guns in the knowledge that they still control their fate, and have still to play two matches that – on form – they should be expected to win: against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Winning even one of them gives them a fair shout at making the semi-finals.

For starters, neither captain Tom Latham at the post-match presentation nor Glenn Phillips at the press conference had any regrets about deciding to put South Africa in. Latham said if he had a chance to live the day over again, he would still have decided to chase.

“At the end of the day, we chose to do a toss what we thought was best on this pitch with the information that’s been given,” Phillips said. “And that’s what we go by every game. Obviously South Africa are incredibly strong batting first, but we’ve got an incredibly good bowling line-up and there was no reason that we couldn’t have restricted them to a total that could have been a lot easier to chase on there. Playing on at the end, I definitely thought it got better as well. So, I think had things gone slightly differently, we could definitely have come a lot closer than we did today.

“We definitely recognised that they were playing the style of cricket that they wanted to play. But obviously, when any team tries to accelerate, you get opportunities. Obviously, Quinton [de Kock] had a little bit of luck today as well, which helps. And sometimes you need that as a batter. And then when that luck goes your way, the runs start to flow, things start to move a little bit, and once momentum starts changing, it’s hard to bring it back. So, a couple of things go to hand today. Maybe it looks slightly different.”

The worrying part for New Zealand might be that it has now become more than “just a couple of things” not going to hand. Coming into this match, New Zealand had dropped more catches than any other side, and were bang in the middle of catching efficiency standings. While fielding has a limited impact on the game, and catching efficiency is not the ideal indicator of how well a side is fielding, New Zealand generally have these things covered. In Pune, Trent Boult went on to add two more drops to the list, chances that he would back himself to take most of the time.

“At the end of the day a couple of tough chances were dropped, a missed run-out when his back was turned to the bowler’s end,” Phillips said. “You have no idea where Quinton’s actually standing. Obviously, he had a little bit more time than he thought, but at the end of the day, it’s not like we’ve been dropping straightforward chances or creating a lot of blunders in the field. We’ve definitely put a lot of pressure on the opposition in the field, and we’ve saved a lot of runs and obviously sometimes people drop catches and that’s just the way things go.”

The injury situation might be alarming, and the losing streak might make things look more alarming than they should be, but you’d rather be in the New Zealand camp than Pakistan’s or Afghanistan’s. “It’s just two wins away, and that hopefully puts us in third or fourth place, potentially even second,” Phillips said. “So, I think if we can just keep sticking to our basics, what we do best on the field, everything will be all right.

“We try to remain level-headed throughout everything, not ride the highs too high and the lows too low. So, I think for us, it’s go about our business as we’ve done the whole way through, just keeping things simple, sticking to what we do best. Obviously, England, Australia, South Africa … they all play a very aggressive brand of cricket and we’ve got our own brand and if we stick to it, we know that we’re fighters, we keep coming back time and time again, and when it matters most, we really put the foot down.”

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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