ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2019
Either of Colin de Grandhomme or James Neesham could be rested for the Afghanistan clash © Getty
Despite his team losing six wickets to spin against Bangladesh in their previous match, New Zealand coach Gary Stead is not concerned about facing Afghanistan’s three-pronged spin attack in Taunton on Saturday.
New Zealand may have beaten Bangladesh at The Oval but it was a tighter margin of victory than it should have been after a batting collapse which nearly allowed their opponents to sneak in with a win. Shakib Al Hasan, Mehidy Hasan and Mosaddek Hossain took two wickets apiece while there were some poor shots from New Zealand as the pressure built.
“Sometimes it gets tight like that that you can panic, but there was enough calmness still shining there at the end,” Stead said. “And I hope the lesson that we can take from it is we took some poor options at times. Bangladesh put us under a lot of pressure. They’re a really improved cricket team and played with the attitude of ‘There’s nothing to lose here’.”
There will be plenty more spin for New Zealand to face against Afghanistan and Stead is expecting his team to handle it better than they did at The Oval. “It’s hard to put too much focus on it because out of the 45 overs we face, 30 is with spin,” he added. “A lot more [wickets] will [fall to] spin anyway. We expect that when we face some of these Asian sides, in particular.
“We’ve played spin well in the past. Maybe the pressure of the moment a wee bit the other night made for some poor decisions. But we’ve certainly done the homework on the likes of Rashid [Khan] and Mujeeb [Ur Rahman] and [Mohammad] Nabi, who are definitely going to be a force for Afghanistan.”
Stead confirmed that Henry Nicholls is in contention to play at Taunton after missing the first two matches of the tournament with a hamstring injury. Nicholls has opened in each of his 41 ODIs but could be considered in the middle order against Afghanistan, allowing Colin Munro to retain his spot at the top of the order. A decision on New Zealand’s final eleven will be made once Stead and Kane Williamson see the surface.
Given the struggles of New Zealand’s middle order against Bangladesh, batting Nicholls at number five and leaving out an all-rounder, possible Jimmy Neesham, would make sense although that would leave Williamson with just five bowlers at his disposal. Against Afghanistan that is more of an option than against, say, India. Regardless of what combination they go with, while New Zealand’s top order has looked in fine fettle in their two victories to date, the middle order has more to prove.
“I don’t worry about it,” Stead said. “If Tom Latham had got 30 or 40 not out the other night we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. And he’s done that a lot for us in the past as well. We think the balance that we’ve had in our team provides some solidarity with three, four, five with Williamson, [Ross] Taylor, [Tom] Latham.
“And then actually we have a little bit of power coming in after that with the likes of Neesham, [Colin] De Grandhomme, [Mitchell] Santner, who can provide the icing to the cake as such.
“If we’re honest with ourselves, if you look back at the Bangladesh game, the position we were in, we probably should have been walking off with a six-wicket win or something like that. But strange things can happen in cricket. And I’m just thankful we were on the right side of it and got the two points.”
Tim Southee has also sat out New Zealand’s first two matches with a calf injury and Stead confirmed he will not play against Afghanistan either as he continues his recovery. The fast-bowler should, however, be fit for the match against India next Thursday. “Tim’s not far away now,” Stead said. “We’re really hopeful, the way he’s progressing, he should be right [for India]. I’m sure he’s going to be putting the pressure on us to be selecting him as well.”