“Other teams can come to New Zealand, get mesmerised by the gorgeous grounds and lick their lips on seeing the 45m boundary ropes. But the fact of the matter is limited-overs cricket is as challenging for batsmen here in New Zealand as it is in other countries”.
Be careful when you draw the inner circle at Eden Park they say. If you don’t turn your back and glance at the boundary line but instead measure a certain distance from the stumps and make a circle, you could well end up marking the boundary ropes.
Yes, that’s right!
Eden Park is so short that its claims to be a cricket ground can be viewed sceptically. A 50m long top edge would more likely end up being caught in the crowd rather than at deep third man standing closer to the inner circle than the boundary ropes.
Such are the boundaries that batsmen are tempted to go bonkers from the word go but the spice in the wicket more often than not ensures batsmen aren’t the sole ones in play. Forget Eden Park, most of New Zealand’s cricket grounds are surprisingly short yet produce classic matches where the battle between ball and bat is evened out. After all, both teams play on the same ground.
Eden Park in itself bore witness to two spectacular Test matches in 2013 and 2014, against England and India respectively, a nail-biting tied ODI against India the same year, a fabulous World Cup semi-final between South Africa and New Zealand in 2015 and Marcus Stoinis’ heroics in 2016.
The bowlers are more often not in the game at Eden Park and most other grounds in New Zealand. This ensures that cricket is as exciting, if not more, despite the short boundaries.
Short boundaries only make the bowlers think even more. The fundamentals of limited-overs bowling hardly change. A well-directed bouncer, sharp yorker, smart change of pace, cutters and consistency in line and length still hold the key.
Yes, the margin of error is smaller but it is also a lure for batsmen to go over the top and clear the short boundary.
Shane Watson once said: “I was involved in the last tour here [to New Zealand] and we got flogged every game. The big difference is the size of the grounds. It’s something we’ve got to get used to and understand. Even if New Zealand need 100-120 in the last 10 overs, then it’s still gettable. In Australia, the grounds are bigger and it’s not as easy to score that amount of runs in a period of time.”
As England gear up to tour New Zealand, the ODI leg is attracting immense attention for the simple fact that England’s new age mantra of out-batting opposition with big hitters could complement perfectly well with New Zealand’s short boundaries.
Take a glance at England’s insane batting line-up in ODIs and the numbers they have churned out in the past couple of years and you wonder if the series could see the first 500 in ODIs.
Alex Hales and Jason Roy are two batsmen capable of taking on the bowlers from the word go. They have pioneered several spectacular England run fests since the 2015 World Cup but they could take a watchful approach on these responsive surfaces where someone like Trent Boult breathes fire. Only one of them might open, though, with Johnny Bairstow increasingly becoming an enticing option up the order.
Joe Root is the unheralded hero of the ODI team. While he gets crowded out in a team of big hitters, Root is the sheet anchor and the one around whom these bludgeoning, maniac six-hitters thrive. Add in the calculated aggression of Eoin Morgan, the 360° strokeplay of Jos Buttler, the hungry return of Ben Stokes (if he plays), the new-found power hitting game of Chris Woakes and the silent assassin in Moeen Ali and you have a team of batsmen and all-rounders capable of slogging fearlessly for 300 balls.
The short boundaries in New Zealand further make the signs ominous for the hosts. Yes, the pitch is usually spicy in this part of the World and the inspite of the shorter ropes, clearing them is a chore particularly because these Kiwi bowlers know exactly how to bowl on these surfaces.
“No matter what, New Zealand are always in the game”, Watson had quipped and rightly so.
Other teams can come to New Zealand, get mesmerised by the gorgeous grounds and lick their lips on seeing the 45m boundary ropes. But the fact of the matter is limited-overs cricket is as challenging for batsmen here in New Zealand as it is in other countries.
But here we are talking about England’s refurbished ODI line-up, a team of eleven fearless, marauding strikers, armed with huge bats and a license to go after the bowling come what may.
New Zealand might break through with 2-3 wickets up front but still find themselves chasing leather courtesy the depth in England’s batting line-up. This is where New Zealand’s familiar ploy of tempting visiting batsmen into taking them on and using the spice on the surface to eke out wickets fall apart – England’s mind-blowing, long batting line-up.
All of this promises an exciting contest, one which cricket fans had long awaited. Can the real England please stand up?