Devon Conway was sitting in the corner of the press room, his toes peeping out of the slip-ons that had ‘Black Caps’ big and bold. On the dais, his co-wrecker in the 273-run partnership Rachin Ravindra, who loves sprinkling “it was pretty cool” in most answers, was addressing the media. When someone asked how it felt that two persons who have their roots away from New Zealand – Conway in South Africa, and him in India – combined to give defending champions England a 9-wicket hiding in the first game of the World Cup, Ravindra would play it cool: “Well, we are both Kiwis, now”.
On the sidelines, Conway, who was intently listening to his younger teammate, would murmur: “My Man!”. And when Ravindra finished his media interaction, Conway and Matt Henry, who was sitting beside him, would clap vigorously.
Ravindra and Conway, Henry and Mitchell Santner, Glenn Phillips and Trent Boult, all joined in the walloping of the ‘strongest’ team in the tournament, and when one considers this was the first time they were meeting in a ODI World Cup after that heartbreak at Lord’s, it was indeed a pretty cool day out for New Zealand.
What’s the takeaway from the first World Cup game? Read the pitch properly, have a slew of spinners, regular and part-timers, to do the sew-up the middle overs, have the ability to mix up slower ones as a pacer, and under lights, when the batting conditions improve, have a blast.
But first read the pitch well. “Our prep helped,” Henry, who was the best pacer on view, taking out David Malan, Jos Buttler and Sam Curran, said. “We knew we had to bowl into the wicket” where it would hold a touch and upset the batsmen’s bat-swings. Like Henry’s judicious split-ball slower one held up on the track, inducing a well-set Jos Buttler (43) to nick it behind.
It was the New Zealand bowling that did the trick, restricting England to 282 on that track, but the takeaway memories for the sparse crowd are most likely to be the rollicking partnership between Conway and Ravindra. Perhaps, as a crowd-pleasing act, it would be best to start from there. By the end, the boundaries were pouring in like water from a burst dam. Conway smacked 22 of them with 19 fours, and Ravindra blasted 16 boundaries, with five sixes. A shell-shocked England, who had long given up the ghost, hastened the end by bowling some tripe.
A few months ago, stuff.co.nz, a popular New Zealand portal, ran an article on ‘how to make a Black Caps XI entirely from South Africa-born players’ and the team list included Conway, Phillips, Neil Wagner and Co. They even had a coach of the same ilk: BJ Watling.
They can also try an addendum to that story, and try to see how many Indian-origin players can fill up their team. The two who saved a dramatic Test in Kanpur, Ajaz Patel and Ravindra, can be earmarked, with Deepak Patel, the former off-spinner, as the coach. And who knows how many are bubbling up at the grassroots.
England captain Jos Buttler was gracious in admitting they were “overplayed” but there was one terse moment in the press interaction. When an English journalist posed “Are you confident of a turnaround?”, perhaps Buttler didn’t appreciate the tone and had a bit of glare even as he mumbled “Yes”. The questioner persisted with ‘what do you have to do for that?’ And Buttler, still icy, would say: “Play better”.
That they certainly have to. There were too many wickets that were gifted to the New Zealand spinners in the middle overs. Harry Brook, who had smacked 4,4,6 to a slew of long-hops in Ravindra’s first over, mis-timed a pull off the next ball, another rank short ball, to the deep midwicket fielder. Moeen Ali shaped to pull a short ball from part-time spinner Phillips but lost his stumps. In the 42nd over, when New Zealand’s stand-in captain Tom Latham surprisingly brought on the offie Phillips, Joe Root missed his reverse sweep and was yorked out.
Henry, who had shipwrecked India in the last ODI World Cup semi-final, was spot on again here, at the start and in the middle. He’s a bionic man, who owes his cricket career to a surgery called “Pars Repair” when he was 21 – a titanium wire and two screws are still holding up his vertebra in his back. It was the same doctor who operated on Shane Bond and since then, quite a few players from New Zealand and Australia have gone to him. The pain was so bad that going to the toilet would be a pain for a few days, Bond has said, and it was on his urging that Henry had undergone the treatment so young. “You reminded me of that now!” He would say with a smile after a fine performance. “They are still there – the screws and the wire; they saved my career!”
Buttler would say how New Zealand outplayed them, talk about how the pitch got better under lights (“We also would have bowled first”), and then as the England press kept asking about the nature of the big defeat, would blurt out: “We are not robots; sometimes you don’t play as well as you would like. The margin of loss doesn’t matter; it’s still one loss. We were just a bit off. We will work hard and come back.”
But what that margin of loss and the nature of defeat has meant is that already, just a day into the tournament, some sort of level-playing field has been established. No doubt, England can bounce back strongly, but now the other teams know that they can be beaten and also know how to do it. Or if they still don’t, they can text Ravindra. “A hundred is always special. And to do it in India, where my roots are, it’s pretty cool.” His parents, he said, were at the stadium watching him blast that special maiden hundred. “That’s pretty cool”.