Twenty tips to bluff your way through the Black Caps’ T20 World Cup final

Twenty tips to bluff your way through the Black Caps’ T20 World Cup final

At 3am on Monday morning the New Zealand men’s cricket side take part in their third world final in as many years. If you’ve been sensibly sleeping during the small hours, rather than watching, here’s a crib sheet.

First and foremost: When does the T20 World Cup final start and where can you watch it? It’s a night game in Dubai, so that means a Monday 3am start New Zealand time. You may need to set a couple of alarms. It is being televised live by Sky Sport, who are broadcasting from 2.30am and have produced this terrifying image to sear it into your prefrontal cortex:

Here’s another high-caffeine pic, from the ICC (you’re welcome):

Given the sleep-unfriendly timing of the UAE-hosted tournament, many who are “adult” and “not stupid” will have resisted the temptations of the short-form competition. To get you up to speed for the big event, here are 20 talking points.

1. A golden age

It is only right and proper that New Zealand children are told often, tediously and at length by their elders that It Was Not Always Like This. No one can seriously debate whether this is the greatest ever New Zealand men’s cricket team. Beaten in the final of the 2019 One Day International World Cup, by the slimmest imaginable margin (the absolutely normal and fine rule of counting back boundaries). Winners of the inaugural World Test Championship in June 2021. Currently ranked first in the world in both of those formats. And now in the final of the quickfire version of the sport. It’s extremely freaky and beautiful.

2. Taking on Australia

The Black Caps will face Australia in the final. The image of Mitchell Starc skittling Brendon McCullum for a duck in the final of the 2015 ODI World Cup will immediately flash through anxious minds. As every astute observer of the name knows, however, the only reason that game was lost so dismally was because the MCG is so big, and Monday morning’s game is not at the MCG. 

Neither New Zealand or Australia was widely predicted even to make the semi-finals, let alone crush the air, respectively, out of England and the heroic Pakistan in the penultimate over. In a warm-up game in Abu Dhabi, Australia won with a ball to spare. Earlier in the year, New Zealand at home won three games to Australia’s two. So there’s not heaps in it.

3. Whoever wins the toss will bowl

Across the three venues used in the T20 World Cup, the overwhelming choice of the captain who wins the toss has been to bowl first and chase with the bat. That’s especially true in Dubai. In the World Cup proper, every game at the venue has been won by the team batting second, with a single exception: when New Zealand beat wooden-spooners Scotland. And with one exception (Afghanistan against Pakistan) the toss-winner has elected to bat second. 

4. Dew

The reason for the above, the consensus seems to be, is dew. The second innings sees the arrival of extra moisture in the pitch, bringing the ball on to the bat and blunting the short-of-a-length and slower-ball weapons. And as the ball gets damp it’s tougher for spinners to get a good grip on the ball.

5. Devon and hell

The Black Caps juggernaut has benefited from a constant stream of repatriated South Africans. The most formidable over the last couple of years is Devon Conway, who has proved a revelation across all three formats. Very sadly he is a scratch from the final, having broken his hand, the grisly result of a clash with his own bat born of frustration at getting out. 

6. The NZ XI

For most of the tournament it’s been an unchanged line-up, with Conway behind the stumps. His altercation with his own bat means Tim Seifert, a more accomplished wicketkeeper, will almost certainly be restored to the side. (There’s an outside chance Glenn Phillips could be asked to wicketkeep, but even if he hadn’t cut his finger while diving over a hoarding on Thursday morning, that would have been a longshot.) The good news is that each of what are now NZ’s top five batters – Mitchell, Guptill, Williamson, Philiips and Neesham – has played an innings that could be described as match-winning over the course of the World Cup. Seifert is no bunny with the bat, with a T20 international best score of 84 not out, and he’s certain on Monday morning to take an absolute screamer of a catch.

7. The bowlers 

You need a team firing across the board to make the final, but the bowling has especially excelled for New Zealand. There’s plenty of experience in the pace bowlers, led by veterans Tim Southee and Trent Boult, while Adam Milne, who replaced the injured Lockie Ferguson, has provided a seriously fast threat and Jimmy Neesham a wily extra option. Spinners Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi make up a bowling attack that neatly combines threat and parsimoniousness. 

8. Jimmy Neesham is not amused

Probably more buzzy tbh is Kane Williamson’s kooky (or Bond villain?) smile.

9. John Mitchell

As All Black coach he was, let’s say, polarising. And then he went to join the England rugby coaching set-up. But all is forgiven, for he’s also the father of the surprise star of the Black Caps batting line-up Daryl Mitchell, the opener blessed with what Simon Doull accurately identified as “Big Boy Power”. We can thank John, who has been a comforting presence in the UAE stands (the cameras like to cut to him about once every half hour) for bestowing Daryl with the BBP genes; the general equanimity and cheerfulness must be a maternal inheritance.

10. Ish Sodhi

Sodhi isn’t the highest wicket taker so far for the Black Caps (he has nine, Boult has 11), but what wickets they’ve been. He dismissed Virat Kholi when New Zealand beat India and trapped Jos Buttler LBW in the semi-final. If Buttler had remained there for another five overs, he’d probably have batted New Zealand out of the game.

11. Adam Zampa

Shoulder length air, whisky loving, a vegan: easily the most interesting member of the Australian team. He famously holds coffee appreciation sessions called The Love Cafe and has a brand of coffee-making equipment called The Love Bundle. Here’s what he said last year about his approach to touring: “I’ve only brought about three T-shirts and two pairs of pants so I can fit in all my food and all my appliances. People come into my hotel room and say ‘you’re a great packer’. I’ve got everything here. A microwave, all my coffee, all my elixirs – apple cider vinegar and my nutritional yeast. Packet mac and vegan cheese, miso soups, tea, all my favourite mugs and peanut butter.” He’s also very good at spin bowling and has the most tournament wickets of either side playing the final. 

12. The PA

A very high energy effort from the ground announcers, complete with a playlist full of nation-specific club bangers thrown in between repeat plays of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 Official Anthem. This has been particularly admirable when the stadiums have been basically empty apart from a handful of puzzled schoolchildren and John Mitchell.

13. You’d be happy to take them round to your grandparents’ place

The Black Caps have proved yet again that you can win both the cricket and the karma. In the semi-final Daryl Mitchell refused an easy run after he accidentally impeded the bowler, causing cricket followers around the world to weep with admiration. The Australian side, meanwhile, includes David Warner and Steve Smith.

14. Danny Morrison

It’s a question that has vexed cricket lovers and anthropologists for many years: What is Danny Morrison? He has no age, no time, no place, he’s just there, commentating on games of cricket, channeling the haphazard rhythms of the universe. He loves to emphasise syllables. He loves to say “ICC!” a lot. He sometimes seems to be watching an entirely different game to the one under way. But the secret with Danny is to lean in, to live love laugh him, to ride the Morrison wave. Go the Little Boy Power! Hashtag maximum! 

15. Levers

Owing presumably to an executive decree by some limb-hating member of the ICC, no commentator in this tournament has ever used the word “arms”. They must always be “levers”, eg “Look at that Big Boy Power lad extend those long levers”.

16. It’s very hot

This is a part of the world where simply being outside is a physical challenge. During his innings against Scotland, Martin Guptill lost 4.4kg, he said last week. The final is a night game so not as sweltering as the afternoon contests, but night games are still hot. In the semi-final Mitchell sweated gallons, as Guptill did before him. The two long-levered men removing their helmets to floods of perspiration in this World Cup looks like an homage to the Cuba Mall bucket fountain.

17. Shane Watson

The former all-rounder will be Australia’s voice in the commentary box. It’s at once refreshing and somehow disappointing that he comes across as both intelligent and a very nice person. 

18. Pretty cool

The adjective of choice since the McCullum days to describe extraordinary, heroic cricketing achievements has been “pleasing”. That’s still part of the repertoire but close observers have noted a rise in the use of “pretty cool” in post-match remarks from our beloved Black Caps. Who knows what could happen if they win. 

19. Caps

Why are players wearing more than one cap? You may see someone, the captain of a side particularly, sporting two or more caps on his head. The reason for this is simple: it is a tribute to one of the classic picture books, Esphyr Slobodkina’s Caps for Sale. 

Or at least it should be. In fact it is because Covid rules mean players are asked not to hand their unneeded accoutrements, such as a hat when they go into bowl, to umpires. 

20. Don’t worry too much if you miss it, there’s another really soon

In keeping with the game’s commitment to defy simple explanation, the next T20 World Cup will take place in 11 months in Australia. 



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