A day before New Zealand’s 2019 World Cup semi-final tie against India at Old Trafford in Manchester, former Black Caps opening batsman Rob Nicol, who played two Tests, twenty-two ODIs, and twenty-one T20Is between 2011 and 2013, spoke exclusively to cricfit.com correspondent Ritam Basu from his Auckland residence about the Kiwi openers’iffy form in the tournament. His assessment of New Zealand’s overall performance at this World Cup, and the attributes which make Kane Williamson such a revered leader in the New Zealand dressing room.
A batting all-rounder who could bowl both off spin and right-arm medium pace, Nicol became the seventh cricketer ever and only the second New Zealander after Martin Guptil to hit a century on ODI debut when he scored 108* against Zimbabwe at Harare in 2011.
In all, he scored 941 runs and took 15 wickets at the international level before retiring from all forms of the game in June 2018. He also has the experience of featuring in two major ICC events—the 2010 and 2012 editions of the World T20, held in the West Indies and Sri Lanka respectively.
Q: The opening stand has been a major worry for New Zealand in the tournament. Apart from their first game against Sri Lanka, in which both Martin Guptill and Colin Munro made fifties, the openers have consistently struggled to give a strong start to the team. Why do you think are they struggling?
Nicol: English conditions bring different challenges. Teams so far at the World Cup have tried to disseminate these by playing in different ways. The Australians have taken a cautious approach whilst both the English and Indians have been scoring at parity or more. I personally think we haven’t found our method as yet. The beauty of this is we are in the semis and we have a world class opener lying in wait. All teams at the World Cup are wary of when Guptill will come good.
Q: Whom would you like to see opening the innings alongside Guptill tomorrow? Henry Nicholls or Colin Munro? Or could they even get the left-handed Latham to open the innings?
Nicol: I think we should go with Tom Latham at the top of the order. He is coming off some runs at Durham which would have helped his confidence. It also gives the option of moving Henry Nicholls to his preferred position in the middle order, where he would really complement the partnerships he will be involved in, whether it be with Kane, or Ross, or the strikers at the back end of the innings in Neesham or de Grandhomme.
Q: Has the inconsistency of the openers compounded the pressure on Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor? Is the New Zealand batting too heavily dependent on these two individuals?
Nicol: I heard a stat whilst watching the last fixture that Kane has scored 35% of our runs at this World Cup. I don’t think this sort of stat will weigh heavily on his shoulders at all. He has been a massive presence at the crease for New Zealand as he usually is and he will be hoping to contribute something meaningful at Old Trafford. Ross has had a quiet tournament for his standards if you look at his previous calendar year. He will be eyeing up this semi-final and hoping to potentially etch something in New Zealand cricket folklore.
Q: How in your opinion should the New Zealand openers approach India”s fast bowlers Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah, both of whom have picked up 14+ wickets in the tournament so far?
Nicol: Obviously they have had an extremely productive and successful World Cup. They have extracted every ounce of what the conditions have had to offer. That, coupled with the leadership India have, they have prospered. It’s a difficult one trying to figure out a gameplan to tackle these two bowlers. I’m sure the Black Caps have done their homework. It’s not just the opening attack that has been good. Their spinners have been a real point of difference, too. I heard Ross talking about them, and he has a very good point. It’s going to be a huge challenge for the Black Caps.
Q: How would you sum up New Zealand’s performance in the tournament so far? What have been their strengths and weaknesses?
Nicol: They have had a steady tournament. They started with a hiss and a roar and then they lost three on the bounce! They will be hungry and desperate for a win, especially in a World Cup semi final. They have enough experience in the side, so they won’t be averse to the occasion. They also have a fresh bunch of players that would have watched the previous World Cup wanting to be involved. It’s a massive memory marker moment for international cricketers. It’s a chance for them to etch something in their country’s sporting history. On the other hand, India have players who have gone all the way and will want to ride that metaphoric wave again with the next crop of players.
Q: New Zealand defeated India in their first warm-up game at the Oval, where India were bundled out for 179. The conditions in Manchester, with forecasts predicting light showers and an overcast sky, may well be to the liking of the New Zealand seam bowlers, especially for swing bowlers like Boult and Henry. How can the Kiwis defeat India tomorrow? Is there any major chink in the Indian team which you think Kane Williamson”s men can exploit?
Nicol: I’m not sure if you can take too much out of that warm up fixture. If I can rightly recollect, India won the toss and elected to bat first; almost like they were on a bit of a fact finding mission of the conditions more than the opposition. You’re right in saying our pace bowlers have been our strength and hopefully we can measure up against the matchups. Rohit has been offering opportunities early in his innings that haven’t been taken. We also heard the Black Caps talk about a game plan to tackle Kolhi that didn’t surface because of the washout. That will be interesting to see as no one has seemed to be able to keep him [Rohit] at bay.
Q: Your assessment of Williamson”s captaincy and influence on the team?
Nicol: Kane is so low-key that he is almost horizontal. Laid back is an understatement. But don’t let that trick you. He is intuitive and has good relationships with his bowlers in the squad; that is easy to see. I’d like to see him attack in certain situations more, but it’s easy to say that retrospectively. He has done extremely well to get to this stage and he’ll be pulling all his tactical knowledge to try and get the Black Caps across the line.
Q: Any changes from the previous line-up against England that you see New Zealand making for tomorrow’s fixture?
Nicol: Ferguson will surely come back in after the hamstring strain that kept him out of the last fixture. Now it remains to be seen if we play the extra spinner in Ish Sodhi or not. Your guess is as good as mine.
Q: Final question, Mr Nicol. How has your life been post retirement from cricket? Are you thoroughly enjoying it?
Nicol: I’m a stay-at-home dad. I look after my two sons. I coach a local women’s cricket side here in the central city in Auckland called Parnell CC. Retired life is steady away.