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“The Kiwis must take a cue from their Oceania neighbours, Australia. Even the reigning champions have had close encounters but they have managed to put 300-plus totals and a lot of credit should go to their openers, Aaron Finch and David Warner”

Sheldon Cottrell thumps the first delivery of the day into the pads of Martin Guptill.

West Indies earn a successful review and Guptill walks back, leaving New Zealand at 0 for 1.

Four balls later, Cottrell’s another yorker destroys Colin Munro’s stumps.

This summed up the misery of the Kiwi openers so far in the World Cup. Munro and Guptill, who have scored 133 and 113 runs respectively in 5 games, have been poorer performers among other openers of the higher-ranked sides. They have repeatedly failed to give their side the start, burdening their captain and former captain, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, with the responsibility of scoring the maximum runs.

New Zealand are the only unbeaten side along with Team India and this has been possible because Taylor and Williamson have so far lived up to their role and have stepped up whenever it was desperately needed. The two walked out to bat in the very first over against West Indies when New Zealand became just the second side to lose both openers for a first-ball duck in a World Cup match. Overall in the ODI history, it was just the third instance when both the openers got out for a golden duck.

Munro and Guptill remained unbeaten in New Zealand’s campaign opener against Sri Lanka where they scored 58 and 73 respectively. That was just one instance in this World Cup when the two lived up to the expectations. In the following games, both the openers have failed to even score a single fifty. Guptill, who has been in the national side for over 10 years, was expected to deliver in England, where he had scored 650-plus runs in 15 ODIs. If Guptill was on a lookout to end his bad patch with the bat, he should have targetted West Indies, against whom he had always done well.

Also read: Williamson rises as the Blackcaps down South Africa yet again

Prior to Saturday’s fixture at Old Trafford, Guptill had amassed as many as 588 runs in his last 12 matches against the Windies. In the previous World Cup, Guptill scored a record 163-ball 237 against West Indies – the highest individual score in any ICC tournament. His knock, that was inclusive of 24 fours and 11 sixes, was so massive that the next best score was Taylor’s 42 during a third-wicket partnership of 143.

Unfortunately for Guptill and New Zealand, the explosive opener was pinned by the Windies this time. Cottrell aimed at Guptill’s leg stump with an incredibly swinging yorker that bamboozled the batsman. The West Indian pacer, who is still a serving member of the Jamaica Defence Force, greeted a wicket with his trademark military salute for the second time in the first over when he removed Munro to leave New Zealand at 7 for 2. Munro, who is yet to reach the three-digit mark in 56 matches in the ODIs despite being an opener, has not justified his place in the team. Since the Kiwis have not found an ideal replacement for Brendon McCullum in the ODIs, Munro has managed to keep his place in the opening slot for some time now.

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It is Munro’s first time in England in the shorter format but that is no reason for someone with six years of experience to average less than 30 in five crucial games. If not for Williamson and Taylor, previous edition’s runner’s up, New Zealand would at the verge of getting eliminated before the knockout phase.

Williamson has been in a great touch having scored two back-to-back centuries in the World Cup. He scored a match-winning unbeaten 106 against South Africa that sealed a New Zealand’s place in the last four. In the following game against West Indies, which was expected to be a relatively easy encounter, Williamson found himself in a similar position of pressure and he did not succumb to it, once again. At 0 for 1 in 0.1 overs, Williamson walked out to begin his innings on Saturday.

The Kiwi skipper has had a great relationship on the field with Taylor and England. Williamson, in England, has batted 18 times in ODIs, scoring as many as 1,188 runs at an average of 79.2 including four centuries and eight fifties. He has scored a knock of 40-plus runs in his last 13 ODI innings in England. every single time. Giving more perspective for his love for the English pitches, Williamson’s average is the highest by any player in any one country (min 1000 runs) in ODIs.

By shouldering New Zealand’s responsibility together for a few years now, Taylor and Williamson have built a special rapport when out in the field, especially has batting partners. While they have had a few run-out issues, they still are among the best batting duos in the ODIs, especially at present. The pair is the second-best middle-order pair (among 3-6 wicket stands) after the 2015 World Cup in terms of runs. While saving several games for their country, they have together put up over 2,000 runs at an average of 65.96 with eight century and seven half-century partnerships. Only Eoin Morgan and Joe Root have more runs than the Kiwi duo as a batting pair in the middle-order.

Taylor and Williamson shared a 160-run stand for the third wicket and that powered Kiwis to a total of 291 in 50 overs. New Zealand had a terrible first batting powerplay where they managed just 30 runs in the 10 overs. Williamson and Taylor dragged their side for 35 long overs before the latter got out for 95-ball 69, leaving his side at 167 for 3. Following that dismissal, the BlackCaps managed just 124 runs more. When West Indies began their chase, New Zealand would have thought they had enough runs on the board as the Men in Maroon lost two wickets in seven overs before they went seven down for just 164 runs. They lost another wicket when they had 211 runs on the board.

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It is not a hidden fact that New Zealand do not have a great bowling attack. Carlos Braithwaite, who was aiming to etch his name in another World Cup history, cleverly saw off Lockie Ferguson and Trent Boult’s 10 overs. With 33 needed from the final three overs, Braithwaite went after Matt Henry – 2, 6, 6, 6, 4 – a total of 24 runs were taken in a single over and Braithwaite ended the over on 99 with Windies eight runs away from a sweet victory.

New Zealand had used up their main bowlers and were forced to give Jimmy Neesham the 49th to bowl. It was a gamble and it worked for them as Neesham removed the 10th batsman and West Indies fell short by eight runs.

The Kiwis must take a cue from their Oceania neighbours, Australia. Even the reigning champions have had close encounters but they have managed to put 300-plus totals and a lot of credit should go to their openers, Aaron Finch and David Warner. The two are among the performing batsmen and that has allowed the rest of their line-up to freely play. There is no way Taylor and Williamson will deliver in every single match with a century. If New Zealand want to cross the semi-final stage, the other batsmen, especially the openers, will have to step up and share some responsibility.

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