New Zealand beat England with five players

The World Cup has started, though someone forgot to tell England.

Is this how we are starting the World Cup? With New Zealand giving the ball to anyone in their team who is fit. And only using two batters as well. Did New Zealand just win a game with five players? What the hell is going on here?

New Zealand just pumped, destroyed, ate the defending World Cup champions in a game they only picked three bowlers for. England picked plenty of bowlers, and you can find what is left of them on the outfield. Do you know how many times New Zealand would have thrown the ball into Ben Stokes’ bat to make this an even contest?

It wasn’t that one of the favourites in the tournament was beaten by another one of the realistic chances teams. But England looked timid, while also going playing aggressive shots. They couldn’t bully a bowling lineup that needed Jimmy Neesham to bowl at the death.

The idea of picking three bowlers and winning a World Cup this easily was absolute genius New Zealand shithousery. This was Martin Crowe smoking a joint with Jeremey Coney while Stephen Fleming was taking shrooms.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a World Cup.

New Zealand chose three bowlers

But let’s get to this Kiwi selection madness. Southee was always a question mark, and Lockie has a back niggle that sounds like nothing but could also mean he misses the tournament.

And so with the small squad sizes, and yes, we will get to that later, New Zealand only had four fit frontline bowlers. Those magnificent bastards decided to start the World Cup with only three of them. What does this say about Ish Sodhi, I don’t even really understand. But New Zealand decided to just choose violence and pick a huge batting lineup and combine their bowling attack like Voltron from all the mini lion bots they had available to them.

How did this collection of sixth bowlers do for them?

Well, it was all over the shop. Glenn Phillips at one stage was taking a wicket every 3.5 balls. So he’s golden. But Jimmy Neesham and Rachin Ravindra actually went. Neesham’s first ball was a boundary, Rachin went for three in his first over.

Look at this game by economy. Essentially their two part-timers just got absolutely hammered, 34% of the overs and allowing almost half the runs. The thing worked, but not because of the part-timers.

So the true heroes here are clearly Trent Boult, who fought back really well after Bairstow launched him for six over square leg in the first over, and Matt Henry, who took two wickets that sucked the vibes out of England. And Mitch Santner, who bowled exactly as you would want him to on this surface. I was worried about his bowling coming into this tournament, but I thought he could be economical enough. He needed wickets with Lockie playing as he is. The first one was the important one here, the second one was a bonus and hopefully, he won't have to bowl in the powerplay and death too often in the future.

But a special shout-out to Tom Latham who had to handle one of the weirdest bowling lineups in the history of cricket. There are many times I thought it was about to go poorly, but the Kiwis kept getting wickets and so even Neesham bowling at the death didn’t cause a problem.

It’s a tough thing to work out, but we did a quick look and we could only find this India - Sri Lanka ODI from 2001 where a team had three frontline bowlers. It is just not a thing that teams do. They certainly don't beat World Cup favourites when doing it.

Rachin Ravindra

Let us just stop and appreciate how heartwarming it is that a 23-year-old with little fanfare who was brought here as a bits and pieces player because the beast Michael Bracewell wasn't fit just went out there and smashed England everywhere. Rachin Ravindra had his own Brendon McCullum IPL-type moment with the bat. The way he strikes the ball is so crisp. I have seen him down the order a lot, and this looked like the proper version of him compared to when I have seen him play. Real shame he was so good that Kane Williamson now cannot be picked.

England scored 51/1 compared to NZ’s 81/1, and most of that was because of Ravindra’s ability to impose himself on the England bowlers. It was also because of Chris Woakes, but we’ll look at that another time.

Devon Conway

Conway was great as well, I love how in control he is. It’s so interesting that someone for so long who had no idea how to play well, now seemingly has the most complete control of what he needs to do in any game. Execution, shot selection, tempo, power, placement. He does lots of good things.

New Zealand bounce out England, with spin

The hilarious thing is as good as Ravindra batted, he bowled just as bad. Though thankfully he was plus 47 net on the game. I have this theory that Rachin Ravindra has trouble bowling the white ball. It’s like it gets stuck in his hand with the extra lacquer and so he drags the white ball down a lot more than the red. Against England at Cardiff, he was as short as any spinner I have seen.

Rachin starts with a short ball, this one doesn’t go for runs. Then he has another, this one does go for runs. Then another, and more runs. The third one barely stays in the stadium and yet Brook still gets one more and that is what gets him out. Just a filthy over that actually turned out pretty damn well.

Brook and England middle order

Harry Brook being dismissed was really important to England. Because of the Stokes injury and Eoin Morgan in the comm box, England had two of three middle-over machines out.

This was Brook’s first time in that role, and he played like he does in T20 cricket, and some Test innings. There was no accumulation, just annihilation.

Morgan mentioned on commentary that England like to build partnerships in the middle, but Brook is currently someone who likes to smash the ball. So the question I have is if he can do this job, now. It’s not a question of his talent, that is undeniable. But he has never milked overs 10-40 in an ODI, so if Stokes doesn’t come back in, perhaps the better idea is to shuffle the order around again.

The problem for Brook is England is giving him new roles in a format he doesn’t play in.

Trent Boult’s knuckles

So this is fun, I think Boult has upgraded his knuckleball. He has certainly bowled it before, but it wasn’t like this. The over to Liam Livingstone - which probably ended England’s chance of 300 - contained two I am sure of.

He starts with pace on, nice. But the second ball completely beats Livingstone and it’s certainly not a cutter. It dies completely and also seems to come back in. The third is pace on, which goes past Livingstone’s edge. Another slower one follows it. And then one more. This one is lifted up to long on and caught. It’s a knuckleball that rotates twice through the air, it’s perfectly pitched, for the second time in the over as well.

This could be very handy for later on in the tournament if Lockie Ferguson can’t bowl, or continues to struggle. Boult upskilled. And while it is handy for New Zealand, Boult might also extend his longevity in T20.

The knee guys Stokes, Southee and Williamson out

So I know a lot about knee injuries, I had my first operation at 19. My dad is on his third or fourth replacement knee. The rest of my family has a bunch as well. I say all this because Ben Stokes’ hip injury is likely being caused by his knee problems. The hip is likely trying to keep the leg doing its thing. If Stokes has no cartilage left in his knees as I assume, then this might cause him other issues as well.

But this is not even the most amazing knee injury in this game, or not in this match I suppose. Kane Williamson tore his anterior cruciate ligament. That was on the 5th of April, three weeks after that he was scheduled for his operation.

Usually, athletes take nine months to come back from a ruptured ACL at least, it can be 18 in some cases. Williamson was back on the field six months after his injury. That is really quick. It’s not unheard of, but it’s rare, and also quite risky. I think his biggest issue is going to be fielding. He - like most top-level batters - is a natural reader of the ball. So you see someone about to play a backfoot drive through covers, and you start to move towards where it will be hit, then they get an edge and your weight moves to the other side. Running between wickets might cause problems when there are communication errors.

Of course, because of Rachin, Kane can be walked in stadiums like a king and not even play.

15 man squad

There is no reason why at a billion-dollar event New Zealand start a tournament with a bowler short. Now NZ have to take some blame here, they went with Williamson and Southee in this squad, when both had injury clouds. And they could have played Ish Sodhi, but they didn’t.

But why on earth in 2023 do we have a legacy-sized squad from back when players had to buy their own blazers? Three more people, that is all I ask for. Actually, I ask for like 25 players in the squad, but I’m a menace. How about 22, Noah that shot, two of everything. Although Noah actually had 7 of everything, and that’s clearly a made-up story. But 18. Enough for teams to bring a specialist bowler for one kind of surface. Ensure your seamers have backups, and make sure teams were playing their best possible XI after each match, not New Zealand supergluing a bowling attack together.

Just let them have 18 players. They can carry as many geriatric Kane Williamson’s as they want then.

Throwaway game for England

The only thing worse than the ICC squads being so small was England. Malan struggled with a world-class bowler moving it around. Brook went a bit hard. Moeen picked the wrong ball. And Livingstone struggled with the knuckleball. Oh, and then Woakes was all over the place, Mark Wood couldn’t do his job, Adil Rashid really struggled and England looked confused and timid.

This is a complete throwaway game for England. From an analysis point, I don’t think there is much they can do. Like if Bairstow hits his wider, or Buttler gets a thicker edge, they might still have made 360. New Zealand might still have chased it.

I don’t know what this says about New Zealand’s, or even England’s chance of winning the trophy. But I know this, the Kiwis could win the whole thing and still not play a better match than this. Imagine how good they will be if they use all their players next match.